On Nov. 15, 1997 in Asheville, N.C., the Liberty volleyball team defeated UMBC, 3-0, to claim the program's first-ever Big South Volleyball Championship title. Nearly 20 years later, the 1997 championship team returned to Liberty's campus for a reunion celebration.
During Liberty's Hall of Fame Weekend, on Sept. 30, seven out of the 10 Liberty student-athletes who played in the 1997 championship match were on hand, as were then head coach Chris Phillips and assistant coach Dr. Laura (Miller) Hatfield.
The reunion began on Saturday, Sept. 30, as the team members and their families gathered at the Hancock Welcome Center for lunch. This provided a wonderful time to reconnect, while they watched the film of the final set from the 1997 Big South Volleyball Championship title match.
Then, the team went to the Vines Center, where they joined the current team for a pre-match message, given by Dr. Laura Hatfield. They watched the Lady Flames rally for a 3-2 win over UNC Asheville, and were honored on the court in between sets two and three. Following that, they attended Liberty's football game against Saint Francis (Pa.), where they appeared on the field during a quarter break.
The 1997 Lady Flames went 26-9 on the season, winning their first of seven Big South titles and making their initial NCAA Tournament appearance. Led by first-team all-conference middle blocker Anthonia Akpama and Big South Tournament MVP Ashley Fletcher, the Lady Flames traveled to Fayetteville, Ark., on Dec. 5 to face Notre Dame in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Chris Phillips was named Big South Coach of the Year in 1997.
Akpama, a member of both the Liberty Athletics Hall of Fame and Big South Conference Hall of Fame, holds Liberty's career record with 2,024 kills. The 1997 squad is well-represented in the program's record books, as Akpama (1st in kills, 3rd in blocks, 10th in aces, 9th in digs), Kyrie Dorn (5th in kills), Leanna Miller (7th in kills), Stacy Collier (5th in blocks), Ashley Fletcher (2nd in assists, 7th in aces) and Athena Sherwood (4th in aces, 10th in digs) all rank in the top 10 in at least one career category.
Attendees at reunion of 1997 Big South Volleyball Champion team Chris Phillips (Head Coach) Dr. Laura (Miller) Hatfield (Assistant Coach) Anthonia (Akpama) Oyedele (Middle Blocker) Christi (Cherry) Henry (Outside Hitter/Defensive Specialist) Stacy (Collier) Fogleman (Middle Blocker) Ashley (Fletcher) Sorenson (Setter) Leeana (Miller) Tankersley (Outside Hitter) Athena (Sherwood) Aronson (Right-Side Hitter) Jill (Vandeventer) Sturrock (Setter) Kelly Wood
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