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    April 9, 2022 College Park, Md. RSS |

    Senior opposite hitter Josh Knapp was named tournament Most Valuable Player after helping Liberty University’s Division I men’s volleyball team to defend its East Coast Championships tournament crown, held for the first time in three years, Saturday at the University of Maryland.

    “The last time they had it, Liberty won it,” Flames third-year Head Coach Kaleb VanDePerre said of the first-time feat also in College Park, Md. “That was (2018-19) Kaden (Knepper) and Gene’s (DeJesus) senior year.”

    The Flames (23-3) were only seeded fourth out of 12 DI teams in the tournament, but went 5-0 and didn’t lose a single game, defeating Delaware, 25-20, 25-22; JMU 25-10, 25-19; and Syracuse 25-19, 25-8, in pool play before sweeping Penn State, 25-23, 25-18, in the semifinals and Virginia Tech, 26-24, 25-23, in a championship rematch of the ECVA South Tournament final.

    Knapp spiked 38 kills in the five matches and was complemented offensively by senior outside hitters Cody Reinsma (16 kills), Cross Edwards (15 kills), and Tait Lapham (14 kills) as well as senior middle hitters Luke Marine (13 kills, 7 blocks) and Ben Dowd (12 blocks). Senior setter Tommy Speelman distributed 99 assists and served a team-high five aces.

    “We didn’t lose a set, and we played really well,” VanDePerre said. “We played really good defense against Virginia Tech and served really well. We had Cody (Reinsma) back, which was nice, and were able to shut down their middles better than last time.”

    “Our middles played unreal and Cross, Cody, and Tait did really well from the outside,” VanDePerre said. “We’re going to be hard to beat once we get to nationals. We are ready to roll. They’re really clicking on all cylinders and (Club Sports Assistant Director of Strength and Conditioning) Jared (Lovelace) has been doing a great job getting us ready to peak at nationals.”

    The Flames, ranked No. 2 in the National Collegiate Volleyball Federation (NCVF), fly out of Lynchburg early Tuesday for Phoenix, site of Thursday’s through Saturday’s NCVF National Championships. As the East Coast Tournament champions, the Flames should be one of the top-seeded teams at nationals.

    “A lot of the field will have not experienced nationals,” VanDePerre said. “We’re an old team, which is good. We’ve got three more days, and we’ve got to take care of business one day at a time.”

    Liberty will be joined by its Division II squad, ranked sixth in Division III, which bounced back from a 25-21, 26-24 loss in the first round of pool play to sweep Stony Brook, 25-22, 25-21, and Buffalo, 25-12, 25-19. Then in the quarterfinals, the Flames swept Brockport, 25-22, 35-33, before dropping the semifinal matchup to the eventual champion, Elon (N.C.) College, 25-18, 12-25, 15.

    Senior John Sauder and junior Noah Marine both hit at over a .400 percentage and freshman Bryce Weenink came off the bench and played well.

    “Our DII team should receive a pretty good seed going into nationals,” VanDePerre said. “They haven’t been as consistent and strong as they were to start the season but did some good things today. They had a lot of energy and a lot of guys contributing today who haven’t scored as much in the past.”

    By Ted Allen/Staff Writer