In its first-ever match played in the state of Colorado, Liberty posted an impressive set-one victory before Southern Utah rallied to win in five sets (14-25, 25-19, 28-26, 20-25, 15-12), Friday at Cadet East Gym.
With their win in the first match of the Amy Svoboda Memorial Classic, the Thunderbirds improve to 4-5 on the season. Liberty falls to 1-6 with its fourth straight setback. The Lady Flames will look to get back on the winning track at 5 p.m. ET when they take on the host Air Force Falcons.
Liberty won a majority of the statistical categories, including attack percentage (.190-.167), kills (61-58), assists (58-54), aces (8-3) digs (75-61) and blocks (14-11).
SUU's Janet Kalaniuvalu tied for the match lead with 17 kills, while Macky Fifita registered 15 kills and 20 digs and Mckenzie Van Uitert scored 10 kills. Alexis Averett totaled 46 assists and 11 digs, while MaCail Evans posted nine blocks.
Gabrielle Vess paced Liberty with a season-high 17 kills to go along with 12 digs and six blocks. Victoria Baptista recorded her first career double-double, with 12 kills, 16 digs and three aces. Anna Gragg sent down 10 kills, while Anna Willey recorded 44 assists, 10 digs and four blocks. Sirena Vorster tied a career high with nine blocks, while Margaret Latchford collected 15 digs.
The Lady Flames dominated set one from the start, as four early aces and two blocks helped them race out to a 14-4 lead. Liberty maintained its comfortable lead throughout, hitting .435 on the way to a 25-14 victory. Three different Lady Flames scored three kills apiece. Southern Utah hit just .148 for the set.
The Thunderbirds took control of the second set early, leading 10-4 after 14 serves. Liberty battled back to within one point, 18-17, after a Willey-Vorster combo block. Southern Utah called a timeout, and responded by outscoring Liberty, 7-2, down the stretch to take set two, 25-19.
The second session saw SUU outhit Liberty, .250-.132. Liberty's Baptista and Southern Utah's Kalaniuvalu both scored four kills.
After the first two sets featured no ties, set three was much tighter, with 16 ties and four lead changes. Southern Utah gained its first set-point try at 24-23 on a kill by. Vorster scored a set-tying kill. Following an SUU sideout, Vorster sent down back-to-back kills to give Liberty a 26-25 advantage. The Thunderbirds bounced back, scoring the final three points to win, 28-26.
Both teams hit for low percentage in the third session, as Liberty led, .077-.070. Southern Utah posted four blocks, compared to two for the Lady Flames.
Liberty led set four, 17-12, after a Vess kill. Southern Utah rallied to tie the score at 19-19, but a Willey-Gragg block sparked a four-point Liberty run. Following a sideout, Willey scored a kill and a Vess block clinched the set, 25-20, sending the match to a fifth set.
Liberty outhit Southern Utah, .268-.159, in set four. Vess scored six kills for Liberty, while Kalaniuvalu sent down seven kills during the fourth session.
Van Uitert scored a pair of key kills, giving the Thunderbirds an 8-6 lead at the changeover in set five. SUU led by four at 10-6 and again at 11-7. Liberty narrowed the gap to 12-10 on a block by Vess and Vorster. That was as close as the Lady Flames would get, as five sideouts ensued, with Fifita sending down the match-clinching kill, 15-12.
The Lady Flames take on the host Air Force Falcons at 5 p.m. ET. It will be the first of two straight meetings between Liberty and Air Force, as the two teams will also square off at noon ET tomorrow.