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    April 6, 2022 Martin, Tenn. RSS |

    Liberty University’s women’s beach volleyball team defeated an NCAA Division I program for the first time on Friday, beating Missouri State in its second of four matches at the University of Tennessee Martin’s Skyhawk Beach Volleyball Complex.

    Host UT Martin and Tulane (La.) swept the Lady Flames on Friday and Saturday by 5-0 scores, but Liberty bounced back to claim 3-2 and 4-1 victories over Missouri State and Ottawa (Kansas), respectively, improving to 3-8 in the spring semester. The Lady Flames have faced predominantly NCAA Division I competition this season and of the four schools they played over the weekend, only Ottawa is an NAIA program.

    “Missouri State was a huge win for us,” Liberty Head Coach Kaleb VanDePerre said. “They’re a solid team, but our girls just battled and played really well. We were really consistent and mentally tough. We didn’t make a ton of errors, just put the ball in good spots on the court, and that paid off.”

    Against host UT Martin (8-2), the Lady Flames lost all 10 games, with the No. 1 tandem of junior Kaitlyn Holbrook and sophomore Lizzy Armstrong edged by Dylan Mott and Karen Scanlon, 21-18, 21-19, and the No. 4 pairing of Jenae Baker and Syd Metzker pushing UT Martin’s Haeleigh Paulino and Logan Wallick to extra points before falling, 21-15, 24-22.

    “We were competitive, but maybe a little sloppy with that being the first match of the day,” VanDePerre said.

    Against MSU (9-8), sophomore Cara Lecklider and junior Riley Smith trounced Grayson Hall and Kaeli Kristensen at No. 4 before Holbrook and Armstrong defeated Tylar Garrett and Mya Young at No. 1, 21-11, 21-12, to tie the match at 2-2. Baker and Metzker then swept Addison Crider and Becca Bach, 21-16, 21-14, at No. 3 to give the Lady Flames the victory.

    Liberty also won the exhibition match, with junior Taylor Arnold and freshman Grace Kennelley taking MSU’s Brooke Plessner and Chloe Filipski to three games before prevailing, 11-21, 21-18, 16-14.

    “It’s been awesome to see how much more we can control points,” VanDePerre said. “We’re very similar to where we were last year now. Seeing taller, faster teams makes us see the big picture, and our recognition of how to control the points better, using fast offense or slowing it down. We’re not just going through rhythms, but now we are thinking intentionally behind the ball, not just reacting.”

    In the 5-0 loss to Tulane (16-7), Holbrook and Armstrong were again the most competitive before falling to the Green Waves, 21-18, 21-17, with all the Lady Flames’ other seeds being swept decisively.

    Finally, against Ottawa (4-14), the Liberty’s No. 4 duo of Lecklider and Smith straight-setted Eli Rodgers and Asia Cole, 21-17, 21-17, before the Braves’ No. 5 team of Ava Taton and Alison Thornton evened the match at 1-1 by battling back to beat Arnold and Kennelley, 17-21, 21-17, 15-8.

    Holbrook and Armstrong downed Tayler Mobley and Randi Johnson, 21-15, 21-13, to put the Lady Flames back on top before seniors Heather Forton and Lexi Kruse rallied to defeat Emily Jackson and Alexa Boyle, 20-22, 21-13, 15-8, clinching the match. Liberty’s No. 2 duo of Baker and Metzker put an exclamation mark on the win by pulling out another three-game match over Madison Wampler and Kaitlyn Haller, 21-18, 19-21, 15-13.

    Playing higher levels of competition has forced the Lady Flames to raise their games as well.

    “It has made us so much better in such a short period of time,” VanDePerre said. “Jenae and Sydney were in the 6s spot and moved up to the 4s and then the 2s. They have been improving week to week, getting better and learning, soaking everything in and adapting well.”

    On Tuesday, the Lady Flames traveled to Catawba College, an NCAA DII program in Salisbury, N.C., and split a doubleheader against the Indians, dropping the first, 3-2, before again bouncing back to win the rematch, 3-2.

    “We were pretty evenly matched,” VanDePerre said, noting that Liberty had two three-game matches go Catawba’s way. “We just didn’t play well, didn’t execute. Then, it started raining and we used that to our advantage and made a few small adjustments to win the second match. Our 1s and 2s both lost the first match and won the second, our 3s went undefeated, our 4s lost both, and our 5s won the first and lost second, with different teams playing.”

    This Saturday and Sunday at 8:30 a.m., the Lady Flames will travel to Stevenson (Md.) University, an NCAA Division III program that they swept by 5-0 scores three times last season.

    By Ted Allen/Staff Writer