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Liberty Set to Face No. 8 Penn State on Friday

November 30, 2011  Lynchburg, Va.  RSS
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The Liberty volleyball team will meet four-time defending national champion Penn State on Friday at 7:30 p.m. in University Park, Pa.

The Liberty volleyball team will meet four-time defending national champion Penn State on Friday at 7:30 p.m. in University Park, Pa.

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The Big South champion Liberty volleyball team (20-12, 12-2 Big South) will play at four-time defending national champion and No. 8 overall seed Penn State (23-7, 16-4 Big Ten) in the first round of the NCAA Division I Women's Volleyball Championship's Lexington Regional, Friday at 7:30 p.m.

What's at Stake
The winner of Friday's match between Liberty and Penn State will meet the winner of Friday's first match, between Patriot League champion American (23-10) and Colonial Athletic Association champion Delaware (20-12), Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

Liberty is in search of its first victory in the NCAA Division I Women's Volleyball Championship. The Lady Flames have lost in the first round during each of their previous five NCAA Tournament appearances (1997, 1999, 2001, 2007, 2008).

Tournament Quick Points
Liberty is making its sixth appearance in the NCAA Tournament, and first since 2008. The Lady Flames claimed a set in a 3-1 loss at No. 4 Nebraska in the first round on Dec.  5, 2008, when this year's seniors were freshmen.

The team has won one set in each of its last two NCAA postseason appearances, falling 3-1 to No. 7 California in 2007 before a 3-1 setback at Nebraska in 2008.

The Lady Flames hold the all-time Big South record for conference tournament championships (6), conference final appearances (11), conference tournament victories (32) and regular-season conference victories (179).

Prior to this season's 3-0 loss to No. 16 Oregon, Liberty had taken one set from each of its last three nationally-ranked opponents, a span which included a 3-1 setback at No. 19 Kansas State on Sept. 13, 2008 in between a pair of four-set NCAA Tournament losses.

Senior libero Kelly Haseman was the only new starter on the 2008 team that made a return trip to the NCAA Tournament. By contrast, she is the only current Lady Flame to have started in an NCAA national postseason contest.

Liberty vs. Penn State
Matchup Notes

- Penn State holds a 2-0 record all-time against Liberty (W, 3-0 10/28/89; 11/3/90)
- Liberty (2.46) leads the Big South in blocks per set; PSU (2.70) is second in the Big Ten
- Liberty's Jade Craycraft and Penn State's Deja McClendon won Conference Freshman of the Year honors from their respective conferences in 2010.
- Oregon defeated Penn State, 3-1, in the season opener, and then the Ducks downed Liberty, 3-0, on Aug. 31 in a match held at American University.
- Katie Slay ranks 10th in the nation in blocks per set, while Loren Thomas is 27th.
- Penn State's Micha Hancock is 2nd in the nation in aces per set (0.78).
- Penn State had the Big Ten's Defensive Player of the Year (Katie Slay) and Freshman of the Year (Hancock) this season. Additionally, McClendon and Ariel Scott were named to the All-Big Ten team.

Liberty vs. the Big Ten
The Lady Flames are 0-6 against teams in the 2011 constitution of the Big Ten. Liberty fell to Nebraska in 2008 when the Cornhuskers were members of the Big 12. Prior to Friday's match at Penn State, Liberty has not played a match at a Big Ten school. The Lady Flames last played at Penn State in 1990, one year before they joined the Big Ten. 

All-time meetings vs. Big Ten teams (2011 constitution of the Big Ten)
Dec. 5, 2008 at No. 4 Nebraska*, L 1-3
Sept. 15, 2000 vs. Ohio State (at Western Michigan), L 0-3
Aug. 30, 1997 vs. Illinois (at Virginia), L 0-3
Nov. 3, 1990 at No. 7 Penn State*, L 0-3
Oct. 28, 1989 at No. 15 Penn State*, L 0-3

Sept. 2, 1989 vs. Michigan (at Virginia), L 0-3
* - prior to team joining the Big Ten

2011 Season Highlights
Liberty won its Big South-record sixth conference tournament title, sweeping No. 3 seed Radford in the final, Nov. 20 in Charleston, S.C. The Lady Flames had defeated Radford, 3-2, in the 1999 final, the last time the Big South Championship was held in Charleston.

The Lady Flames clinched a share of the Big South regular-season title in thrilling fashion, overcoming an 11-8 fifth-set deficit to beat UNC Asheville in the regular-season finale, Nov. 12. Liberty went 12-2 in Big South play this season, tying with Winthrop.

The team posted a 3-0 sweep of High Point on Senior Day, avenging Liberty's lone league loss to that point while winning its final home match for the fifth year in a row.

Liberty downed Winthrop, 3-2, Oct. 21 in Rock Hill, in a battle of 6-1 Big South teams. That win put the Lady Flames' tournament seeding fate in their own hands.

The Lady Flames went 10-1 at home this season, including 7-0 against Big South opponents, running their conference home winning streak to 14 matches.

Kelly Haseman became Liberty's all-time leader in career digs Oct. 8 at Campbell, collecting her 1,740th career dig to pass Nikki Keznor (1991-94).

Liberty went 6-0 in five set matches this season. Fittingly, the Lady Flames conference opener and conference regular-season finale each ended in 3-2 Liberty victories.

Back Together
Liberty's coaching staff of head coach Shane Pinder and assistant coaches Jennifer Vaden and Becky Rudnick, will be coaching together in the NCAA Tournament for the second time. Pinder, Vaden and Rudnick coached the Lady Flames during the 2007 season. Rudnick re-joined the coaching staff this year, while Vaden has been an assistant since 2005.

Vaden and Rudnick were teammates from 2001-04, and competed together on Liberty's third-ever Big South champion team, in 2001. Pinder was an assistant coach on the 1999 and 2001 NCAA-qualifying teams, and will lead the Lady Flames as head coach in the NCAA Tournament for the third time.

Looking Ahead
If Liberty defeats Penn State on Friday, the Lady Flames would advance to play the winner of Friday's American-Delaware matchup on Saturday. Liberty is 4-6 all-time against American, and 5-3 in the lifetime series versus Delaware.

Tournament Rewind
Liberty has competed in the NCAA Women's Volleyball Championship on five occasions. In 2007 and 2008, the Lady Flames' opening round opponent went on to the Final Four, and both years that team lost to Penn State in the national semifinals.

1997 NCAA Tournament
The Lady Flames went 26-9, capturing their first Big South title and making their initial NCAA Tournament appearance, under head coach Chris Phillips. 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. Liberty's first NCAA foe was Notre Dame, who handed the Lady Flames a 3-0 setback.

1999 NCAA Tournament
Two years later, Liberty went 22-10 and returned to the NCAA Tournament after upsetting Radford in the Big South Championship title contest. Anthonia Akpama was tabbed Big South Player of the Year, but could not keep the Lady Flames from falling at Florida, 3-0, on Dec. 2.

2001 NCAA Tournament
Liberty finished the year 21-11, after claiming its third conference crown in five seasons. The Lady Flames were led by Big South Tournament MVP Rachel Harnack and Big South Rookie of the Year (and current asisstant coach) Jennifer (Belk) Vaden. Liberty was sent to Durham, N.C., for its first-round match, where the Lady Flames suffered a 3-0 loss to USC on Nov. 30.

2007 NCAA Tournament
The Lady Flames enjoyed a memorable season, snapping Winthrop's 63-match Big South winning streak and the Eagles' five-year stranglehold on the Big South title. Big South Tournament MVP Kallie Corbin and Big South Freshman of the Year Nicki Scripko led Big South Coach of the Year Shane Pinder's Lady Flames back to Durham, N.C., for the first round of the NCAA Tournament. On Nov. 30, Liberty won its first-ever set in the NCAA Division I Volleyball Championship, before California wrapped up a 3-1 triumph.

2008 NCAA Tournament
Liberty won back-to-back Big South Tournament championships for the first time in program history. The Lady Flames went 25-9 on the season, thanks in part to the play of Kallie Corbin, who earned Liberty's first All-America honor and was joined on the All-Region team by Chelaine McCarty. Liberty won set two at No. 4 Nebraska during the NCAA Tournament opening round on Dec. 5, but the Cornhuskers earned a 3-1 victory.