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No. 1 Liberty Sweeps No. 3 Radford, Wins 6th Title

November 20, 2011  Charleston S.C.  RSS
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The Liberty volleyball team celebrates its victory in the 2011 Big South Volleyball Championship final.

The Liberty volleyball team celebrates its victory in the 2011 Big South Volleyball Championship final.

The top-seeded Liberty volleyball team earned its record-setting sixth conference tournament title, sweeping No. 3 seed Radford, 3-0 (25-20, 25-23, 25-22) in the final of the 2011 Big South Volleyball Championship, Sunday at CSU Fieldhouse.

Liberty earns the Big South Conference's automatic berth to the 2011 NCAA Division I Women's Volleyball Championship. The championship field will be announced Nov. 27 at 6 p.m. on ESPNU.

With their title this year, Liberty breaks a tie with Winthrop, as both teams had previously won five conference tournaments apiece. The Lady Flames' most recent title before this season was 2008, when this year's seniors were freshmen.

The Lady Flames (20-12) also clinched their fifth straight 20-win season with Sunday's championship victory, which was Liberty's fifth final appearance in a row. The matchup between Liberty and Radford (17-15) marked the third meeting all-time between these teams in the Big South final.

Liberty's Loren Thomas sent down a match-high 11 kills on Sunday, and was named the Tournament MVP. Lillie Happel contributed 10 kills and was honored on the Big South all-tournament team along with Kelly Haseman, who registered 19 digs and collected her second conference all-tournament mention.

Radford's Rachel Wiechecki (10 kills Sunday) and Rachel Brummitt (match-high 24 digs) were also tabbed to be on the all-tournament squad.

Liberty held a slight edge in hitting percentage, .187 to .180, and the Lady Flames posted 10 blocks to six for the Highlanders.

Melissa Racz and Kendle Rollins recorded five blocks apiece, while Jade Craycraft added four blocks to 26 assists, 10 digs and two aces. Ansley Gebben added 12 digs and Gabrielle Shipe posted 10 digs.

Liberty built an 11-7 lead during set one, thanks in part to four blocks by the Lady Flames. The Highlanders rallied to tie the set at 13-13, staging a 6-2 run. Happel and Rollins then sent down consecutive kills take the lead, 15-13. With the scored tied, 19-all, Happel and Thomas earned back-to-back kills for a 21-19 edge, prompting a Radford timeout.

The Lady Flames stretched their advantage to 23-19, completing a 4-0 rally. Liberty clinched set one, 25-20, with a block by Craycraft and Melissa Racz.

During set one, Liberty hit .233 with 13 kills, and also posted five team blocks. Radford connected at a .111 pace in converting 14 kills. Thomas registered four kills for Liberty while Craycraft had three blocks in the opening set. Wiechecki earned four kills for Radford.

Radford led set two, 9-6, after 15 serves. The Lady Flames pulled to within one, 11-10, on a kill by Thomas, and then again at 12-11 on a Radford miscue. The Highlanders stretched their lead to five, 16-11, with a 4-0 run that was capped by a Wiechecki-Deininger block.

Liberty then went on a 7-2 spurt, with a Gebben kill knotting the score at 18-18. Happel gave Liberty its first lead since the early going, 20-19, with a kill. Radford took a quick 22-21 lead after a kill by Wiechecki. Racz and Rollins combined for a block, giving the Lady Flames a 2-0 match lead with a 25-23 set-two victory.

Both teams hit .200 during the second session, with Liberty sending down 14 kills to 12 for Radford. Happel led all players with four set-two kills, while Gebben contributed seven digs.

Set three went back-and forth in the early going, as Craycraft served an ace for a 6-5 Liberty lead. Radford scored the next three points to take an 8-6 edge. Liberty battled back and reclaimed the lead at 15-14 after a Rollins-Racz block which capped a three-point rally.

Six rally points ensued, and then Craycraft posted a solo block for a 19-17 edge. A pair of Radford errors pushed the Lady Flames' lead to four, and a Gabrielle Shipe ace capped a 5-0 run to a 22-17 edge. Radford then staged a 3-0 rally on two kills by Miedema and one from Wiechecki. Thomas sent down a pair of kills to set up match point, 24-20, and then clinched the championship with a kill for a 25-22 set-three victory.

Liberty posted a .229 hitting percentage during the final set, while Radford connected at a .205 pace. Racz sent down four kills on five swings in the fifth set for Liberty, while three Highlanders had three set-three kills each.

2011 Big South Volleyball Championship All-Tournament Team
Loren Thomas, Liberty (MVP)
Lillie Happel, Liberty
Kelly Haseman, Liberty

Rachel Brummitt, Radford
Rachel Wiechecki, Radford
Stephanie Palmer, Winthrop
Meredith Foster, UNC Asheville