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    January 27, 2023 Lynchburg, Va. RSS |

    In the first of four matches at the Liberty Arena this spring, Liberty University’s men’s volleyball team opened its 2023 indoor season with a solid showing against rival Virginia Tech, which pulled out a 21-25, 29-27, 22-25, 25-17, 15-8 ECVA victory on Tuesday night.

    “The overall loss is a tough one to see, but our goal is not to be peaking within a week of starting school, it’s to be peaking at the end of the semester,” former Flames opposite hitter and first-year Head Coach Josh Knapp said. “We have a lot of rust to knock off, some new systems to get used to. Overall, playing a great competitor as Virginia Tech is shows us a lot of things we can work on and improve on. Both of our teams look very different from what they have in the past, so we’re both finding that new rhythm.”

    Graduate outside hitter Cross Edwards, who returned for a fifth season with the Flames, celebrates a point beside middle blocker Jared Vazquez and Lamoureux.

    The Flames won Game 1 with exceptional blocking and timely spikes by graduate outside hitter Cross Edwards and junior middle blocker Jared Vazquez, who came up with a clutch stuff block from the right side of the net on game point. That was after senior middle blocker John Sauder’s stuff block put Liberty on top, 18-13, and senior setter Chase Keith’s dink off a back-row service-receive dig assist from junior libero Mason Ellenberger made it 20-16.

    “Chase did well spreading out the offense … and did an excellent job being offensive with his tip and finding our middles, Jared and John,” Knapp said. “We’ll work on our offensive power a little more. We’ve got a lot of offensive work to do; we’ve been primarily focused on defense. We’re only going to improve that offense.”

    A back-and-forth battle ensued in Game 2, which opened with back-to-back blocks by Sauder, the second for a point. Freshman opposite hitter Zach Lamoureux served a winner off a back-row dig for an early 5-4 lead and senior outside hitter Tyler Wemple spiked a kill off a left-side block for an 8-6 advantage. Keith’s dink winner and back-set assist to Lamoureux for a kill from the right side stretched the lead to 10-7. After slipping behind, 13-12, an ace by Sauder and three successive stuff blocks — the first by Vazquez and last two by Lamoureux — allowed the Flames to regain the lead before a powerful kill by Edwards stretched it to 17-13.

    “(Knapp) was the right-side last year, so he’s really taken me under his wing,” Lamoureux said. “That block was his block that he’s done for the last four years, so he has really been a key part in helping me formulate that.”

    However, after a short-set kill in the middle by Vazquez pushed Liberty’s edge to 20-18 and consecutive power spikes by Vasquez later tied it at 27, the Hokies rallied to win the last two points.

    Edwards’ cross-court kill tied Game 3 at 2 before block and dink winners by Keith lifted Liberty to a 10-8 lead and kills by Wemple and Sauder kept the Flames on top, 12-11.

    Vazquez encourages outside hitter Tyler Wemple (left) after a kill.

    A 6-0 run sparked by kills from Lamoureux, Edwards, and Sauder and a stuff block by Temple lifted Liberty to a 22-19 advantage before Sauder’s power kill from the middle and a foot fault by the Hokies gave the Flames a 2-1 lead in games. But a 10-0 run in Game 4 put Virginia Tech in the driver’s seat up 14-7 and they opened Game 5 on a 5-0 tear that Liberty could not overcome.

    “That was brutal,” Lamoureux said. “We got out of it in the second set a little bit, and that fifth set, they just took over. Our downfall was just not being vocal enough. We needed to talk more. There just wasn’t a ton of communication. All of the guys that have played Tech before say that’s the one thing that Tech always does best. They are an energy team. They’ll yell at each other, and they just capitalize on that. Even though the crowd was behind us, we as players weren’t getting hyped up enough.”

    The match featured an appearance from Liberty super-fan Josh McCracken, an icon at Flames’ men’s basketball games who helped stir up a student crowd of well over 1,000.

    “Energy was a little low,” Knapp said. “We’re a young team with a new look and a lot of players that haven’t really played with each other for a while. A few games, a few tournaments, and a little more experience and they’ll be meshing and find that rhythm that they need. We’re looking to get comfortable within our systems and give those guys confidence in those roles that they play. We really rely on them feeding off other guys and once they accept those roles and get a little more confident in those touches, that young team will turn into a great one.”

    The Flames will travel to Southern Virginia University in Buena Vista on Monday before competing in the ECVA Play Date at JMU in Harrisonburg on Feb. 4. They will then return to the Liberty Arena to host JMU on Feb. 7 and the University of Virginia on Feb. 16, with both matches starting at 7 p.m., before traveling to the Hoosier-Illini Classic on Feb. 18-19 in Bloomington, Ind., and hosting their annual “Midnight Mayhem” contest against North Carolina State on March 4.

    By Ted Allen/Staff Writer; Video by Patrick Strawn/Club Sports Director of Video & Media

    Junior libero Mason Ellenberger makes a back-row dig on service-receive as Wemple (left) looks on.