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Liberty Sweeps Winthrop for First Big South Volleyball Title Since 2001

November 17, 2007  Lynchburg, Va.  RSS
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The Lady Flames celebrate the 2007 Big South Volleyball Championship.

The Lady Flames celebrate the 2007 Big South Volleyball Championship.

For the first time since 2001, the Liberty volleyball team captured the Big South Volleyball Championship, Saturday afternoon at the Vines Center. A true team effort allowed the top-seeded Lady Flames to sweep second-seeded Winthrop, 3-0 (30-17, 30-23, 32-30), ending the Eagles' five-year reign as conference champions.

Liberty's fourth Big South title came courtesy of its 16th-consecutive win. The Lady Flames have matched the 1997 squad's school record for most wins as a Division I program, as Liberty is now 26-7. Meanwhile, Winthrop saw its 17-match Big South Championship winning streak ended. The Eagles close the 2007 season at 20-11.

Kallie Corbin (So., S, Beaverton, Ore.) was voted Big South Championship MVP and was joined on the all-tournament team by Jessica Nelson (R-Jr., OH, Tokyo, Japan) and Nicki Scripko (Fr., RS/OH, Fayetteville, N.C.).

A few championship jitters may have affected Liberty's play early in the opening game. Winthrop took advantage of several Lady Flame errors to build a 7-4 advantage. Nelson and Chelaine McCarty (So., MB, Houston, Ala.) then helped Liberty turn the tide. Consecutive kills by Nelson opened a 9-0 run by the Lady Flames. McCarty served for eight of the points, including two aces.

When the extended surge came to a close, Liberty had taken control of the game at 13-7 and cruised on to a 30-17 victory. Karyl Bacon (Fr., OH/DS, Temecula, Calif.), held without a kill in Friday's semifinal win over fourth-seeded Coastal Carolina, put down a kill for the winning point.

Liberty outhit visiting Winthrop in the first game, .244-.023, and all six Lady Flame starters contributed at least two kills. Nelson led all players in both kills (5) and digs (11).

Winthrop again took an early lead in the middle game. The Eagles were on top, 5-3, after Shannon Sitzmann recorded a kill off an overpass. Liberty reclaimed the edge briefly, after a 4-0 burst, which included kills by Nelson and Scripko.

The Lady Flames did not take the lead for good until another 4-0 burst, highlighted by three-straight kills by McCarty. On top by a 14-10 count, Liberty fought off Winthrop the rest of the way in a 30-23 decision. Roles were reversed a bit on the 30th point, as Corbin notched a kill off a Scripko assist.

McCarty and Nelson posted five kills apiece during game two and helped the Lady Flames hit a match-best .349 during the stanza. Sitzmann started to come alive for Winthrop, hitting .357 with six kills in game two.

Coming out of the locker room with its back against the wall, Winthrop played its best volleyball of the afternoon in game three. Sitzmann recorded seven more kills and Tara Toepke hit .556 with five kills for the Eagles. Libero Pohai Nu'uhiwa tracked down 10 Liberty attack attempts. As a result, Winthrop led for nearly the entire stanza.

The Eagles owned a four-point advantage on several occasions, the last of which came at 22-18. A Toepke kill made the score 27-24 in favor of the visitors and prompted Liberty head coach Shane Pinder to call a timeout. The Lady Flames came back to tie the score at 28, 29 and 30 and fight off two game points.

With the score deadlocked at 30, Nelson and Ashley Webber (Jr., MB, Lakeside, Calif.) combined on a block, giving Liberty its first lead of the game. The Lady Flames then closed out a 32-30 decision and started their celebration, after an ensuing Winthrop attack error. The victory was Liberty's 11th-consecutive win at the Vines Center, marking the Lady Flames' longest home winning streak since a 14-match run spanning the 1998 and 1999 seasons.

Scripko had a team-high four kills during the final game, while Nelson hustled her way to another 12 digs. Nelson and Webber each had a hand in three of Liberty's six blocks in the final stanza. Serving woes proved costly to Winthrop, as the Eagles finished the game with no aces and six errors. For the afternoon, Winthrop, the Big South leader in aces, was held without an ace, while serving up 11 errors.
Scripko headlined Liberty's balanced attack with 12 kills and completed a double-double with 11 of the Lady Flames' 73 digs. Nelson was the team leader in the dig category, pacing all players with her 27 digs and adding 11 kills on a .320 attack percentage.

McCarty chipped in with 10 kills and two aces. Corbin's numbers included six kills, a match-high 42 assists and four digs.

Bacon added 17 digs, while Webber tallied five blocks, bringing her season total to 120, the most by a Lady Flame since 1997. Lara Bartolomeo's (Sr., L/DS, Huntington Beach, Calif.) eight digs gave her 495 digs for the season, breaking her own Liberty rally-scoring record.

As a team, Liberty outhit Winthrop, .254-.119, served for four aces to the Eagles' zero and had 10 blocks to Winthrop's four.

Winthrop's Sitzmann, the Big South Player of the Year, totaled a match-high 15 kills. Toepke added nine kills and 11 digs. Nu'uhiwa led the Eagles' defensive efforts with 18 digs, while setter Kelsey Hall distributed 31 assists.

Liberty earns the Big South Conference's automatic bid to the 2007 NCAA Division I Volleyball Tournament, and the Lady Flames' first tournament match will be played either Nov. 29, Nov. 30 or Dec. 1. The selection show will be televised by ESPNU on Nov. 25 at 8 p.m., at which time Liberty will find out its first-round opponent and tournament site.

In the meantime, the Lady Flames will play a pair of matches to help prepare for the NCAA Tournament. Liberty will travel to VCU on Friday for the VCU Thanksgiving Tournament. Liberty will face Long Island at 1 p.m. and Georgetown at 4:30 p.m., with both contests taking place at the Alltel Pavilion.

All-Tournament Team

Kallie Corbin, Liberty (MVP)
Jessica Nelson, Liberty
Nicki Scripko, Liberty

Shannon Sitzmann, Winthrop
Pohai Nu'uhiwa, Winthrop
Jill Nyhof, Coastal Carolina
Kelsey Benorden, UNC Asheville

QUOTES

Liberty Head Coach Shane Pinder
"I am really proud of the team right now. I have been proud of them all season. We had won 15-straight matches and there was a lot of pressure on us. However, our players showed up and sealed the deal. I wish people could see how hard the team works day in and day out. I am very proud of them."

Winthrop Head Coach Sally Polhamus
"I am really proud of how we came out in game three and really played together. We had a surge of unity, and that is what we needed to compete in that game. Overall, Liberty played really well. They had so many offensive weapons and we tried to contain them. They were able to control the net and played really well tonight."