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    January 27, 2018 Lynchburg, Va. RSS |

    Liberty University's men's volleyball team had difficulty jump starting its offense and made a number of service errors in its spring season opener against ECVA Southeast foe Florida, a 25-17, 22-25, 25-23, 25-21 setback in a "Midnight Mayhem" matchup played in front of approximately 3,000 fans in the Vines Center and streamed live on the Big South Network and WatchESPN.

    "It was a good battle (but) I haven't seen us play that bad in a while," Flames Head Coach Bryan Rigg said. "It was our first match of the spring and we struggled a bit, but the games were close, which made it entertaining. I enjoyed it."

    The Flames made 22 service errors in four games, nearly twice as many as usual, and only had four aces on the night, whereas they had been averaging close to four per game.

    Fans reach for 'Midnight Mayhem' t-shirts tossed into the crowd, early Saturday morning at the Vines Center.

    "There's some things we can't control. There's other things like our serving we can control," Rigg said. "We haven't missed that many serves in a long time. Tonight, we averaged 5.5 missed serves per set. I can fully attribute that to jitters and nerves."

    Florida showcased more offensive firepower than the Flames did and put up a better block as well.

    "They had pretty good blockers and scrappy defenders, a very balanced defense," Rigg said. "Their libero is amazing. Nothing could hit the ground. It was phenomenal how he moved all over the court getting to balls."

    Senior middle hitter Eugene DeJesus powered the Flames' attack with 12 kills and played well defensively, too, with nine digs and four blocks. Meanwhile, junior setter Kaden Knepper distributed 37 assists and added six kills, mostly on redirected sets over the net for winners.

    "Kaden and Gene connected pretty well tonight, but our primary go-to player is (junior outside hitter) Brady Quakenbush and Brady and Kaden did not connect today," Rigg said. "A lot of times Kaden put the sets too far outside the antenna and he couldn't hit the ball."

    Liberty huddles after a point in the four-game setback.

    Knepper mixed up his sets to keep everyone involved in the offense, with sophomore outside hitter Sam Hess and junior middle hitter Jacob Holbert getting their fair share of spiking opportunities. However, they didn't put them away with as much frequency as DeJesus, who had the best kill percentage for the Flames, and had about as many of their spikes blocked back for winners as they put away kills.

    "Kaden distributed well, but his sets were not terribly accurate, which was the hard thing," Rigg said. "His sets got tight on the net, got outside the antenna; those things are not good for us."

    "It was a tough match," added Knepper, who also plays on the Flames' beach volleyball team with Quakenbush as his partner, giving them good chemistry. "We like to get Brady really involved on the outside. He's one of our best hitters. My sets weren't as good as they could have been. It was just a rough night. They had a lot of the momentum for a lot of the match."

    Rigg expects the Flames to respond to the loss by bouncing back and working even harder in next week's practices.

    "This game was great for assessing ourselves," Rigg said. "We're not where we need to be, so we've got to do better."

    Liberty has two weeks to prepare for the Feb. 10 ECVA South Division Tournament hosted by James Madison.

    "Volleyball is such a momentum sport," Knepper said. "It takes a lot of energy all of the time, so we're trying to take that into each and every point and go from there."

    In the first match of the night, starting at 10 p.m., Liberty's Division II men's team swept past Florida's DII squad in consecutive games, 25-17, 25-22.

    During Friday's official campus visit, Joshua Knapp, a 6-foot-8, left-handed setter from Maryland, committed to play for the Flames next fall and stayed around to experience "Midnight Mayhem" for the first time.


    By Ted Allen/Staff Writer

    Flames middle hitter Eugene Dejesus goes up for a spike off a set from setter Kaden Knepper.