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    September 15, 2021 Owings Mills, Md. RSS |

    Ben Dowd (from left), Joshua Knapp, Tommy Speelman, and Tait Lapham represented Liberty at this past weekend’s collegiate men’s tournament hosted by Stevenson University.

    Four members of Liberty University’s men’s beach volleyball team competed in the inaugural USA Volleyball Collegiate Men’s Beach Challenge, the largest collegiate men’s beach event ever held outside of California, this past Friday through Sunday at Stevenson University in Owings Mill, Md.

    The Flames’ senior tandem of Tommy Speelman and Joshua Knapp tied for ninth out of 33 teams from as far away as California, Florida, and North Dakota, as well as Kentucky, Illinois, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Liberty was one of the only Club Sports entries in the field made up mostly of NCAA Division I, II, and III programs.

    “This was a major event for college beach volleyball, getting the nation’s top men’s players to compete and set the road map for future events and a spread around the country,” Flames Head Coach Kaleb VanDePerre said. “The whole goal of the event is to try to identify the next wave of national beach team members and to get them into Olympic pipeline.”

    The tournament was run with international rules and formats, with officials making calls from the stands between each court.

    “It was a very big first step for USA Volleyball and its national team development program,” VanDePerre said. “It had the feel of a national championship, and I think the touches we got will really help our program continue to grow and help teach our guys what the next level of beach (volleyball) is all about.”

    After being swept by the St. Francis Brooklyn (N.Y.) duo of David Vorfi and Johnny Ferraro in their first match, 21-13, 21-13, Speelman and Knapp swept Benjamin Gerdeman and Robert Bowling from Juniata (Pa.) College, 21-16, 21-15. That gave Knapp and Speelman a No. 3 seed out of their pool and No. 15 seed out of 24 teams overall going into the main draw playoffs, where they lost to eventual tournament champions Will Bantle and Charles Fisher from Penn State, 21-17, 16-21, 18-20.

    “It was a great match,” VanDePerre said. “Both teams played really clean and both teams were having to earn points throughout the match.”

    Flames Head Coach Kaleb VanDePerre (right) instructs Lapham and Dowd during a break in the action.

    Flames juniors Ben Dowd and Tait Lapham advanced as one of the top four teams out of a 13-team qualifier to get into the 24-team main draw, where they wound up tied for 17th place. Dowd and Lapham were swept by top-seeded Chris Ludwig and Peyten Young of Webber (Fla.) International, 21-6, 21-17, and third-seeded Justin Tuohy and Arvind Kumar from New Jersey, 21-11, 21-14.

    All tournament scores and places are posted online.

    “I was really pleased with the way we performed most of the weekend,” VanDePerre said. “The guys represented Liberty well and got to connect with a lot of other really high-level players. The (Atlantic Volleyball Coaches Association) AVCA and Stevenson did a phenomenal job of making the event top-notch and I am excited for the sport. It’s going to take off over the next few years.”

    VanDePerre has scheduled four beach tournament dates for the men’s team this semester.

    “We’re seeing a lot of growth for the men’s team and we are going to host some (events) to get them ready to play in these bigger USA Volleyball tournaments,” he said.