Dec. 6, 2008

Courtesy of Liberty Athletics

Lincoln, Neb. - For the second season in a row, the Liberty volleyball team took a set from a collegiate volleyball powerhouse in its first-round NCAA Division I Women’s Volleyball Championship match. However, No. 4 national seed Nebraska won the third and fourth sets to pull out a hard-fought 3-1 (25-11, 21-25, 25-16, 25-19) victory over the Lady Flames Friday evening, before a sold-out crowd of 4,237 at the Nebraska Coliseum.

Big South champion Liberty, which also won a set against eventual Final Four qualifier California during last season’s NCAA Tournament, closes its season with a 25-9 record. The Lady Flames, which saw a five-match winning streak halted by the Huskers, outdug the host team by a 55-49 margin and put a pair of sophomores into double figures in the kill category. Karyl Bacon (OH/DS, Temecula, Calif.) and Nicki Scripko (RS/OH, Fayetteville, N.C.) came up with 13 and 12 kills, respectively, to pace the Lady Flames.

Meanwhile, 28-2 Nebraska dropped a set at home for just the fourth time all season, but pushed its home winning streak to 86 consecutive matches. Senior All-American outside hitter Jordan Larson, who has never lost a match at the Nebraska Coliseum, led the way with a match-high 16 kills, 11 digs and three blocks. The Huskers advance to the second round, where they will meet UAB, Saturday at 6 p.m.

Liberty, sporting red uniforms amidst a sea of red in the bleachers, took a pair of early one-point leads at the outset of the first stanza. Bacon’s spike careened off the blockers’ hands and into the net, lifting the Lady Flames to a 3-2 advantage. Freshman Jordan Wilberger, starting at middle blocker due to a pair of Nebraska injuries, answered with a kill of her own on the next point, inciting a quick, 3-0 burst. The homestanding Huskers would not trail again during the first set.

A 9-1 Nebraska run, highlighted by a pair of service aces and three Tara Mueller kills, extended the Huskers’ lead from 9-6 to 18-7, all but sealing the victory. Larson then provided the final point of Nebraska’s 25-11 triumph, powering a kill off the Liberty block and out of bounds.

As a team, Nebraska hit .344 during set one, led by Mueller’s .500 attack percentage and set-high six kills. The Huskers also took advantage of four service aces and a quartet of blocks. For Liberty, Bacon and Scripko managed two kills apiece, while Corbin came up with four digs in the first set.

The Lady Flames ran off a fast start in set two, starting with Scripko’s kill on the opening rally. Scripko added a back row kill several plays later, helping Liberty jump out to a 6-1 lead. The Lady Flames never relinquished the advantage, but Nebraska made several runs.

A string of three consecutive Husker points, including a block and a kill by Amanda Gates, closed the gap to 10-9, necessitating a timeout by Liberty head coach Shane Pinder. The Lady Flames emerged from the huddle by tallying seven of the next nine points. Blocking played a key role in the extended surge, which increased the visitors’ advantage to 17-11. Junior Chelaine McCarty (MB, Houston, Ala.) had a hand in all three of Liberty’s blocks during the run.

Larson’s kill later sliced the Lady Flame lead to three, 21-18, forcing Pinder to request another timeout. Scripko answered with a kill, curbing Nebraska’s momentum and sending Liberty on its way to leveling the match at one set apiece. McCarty’s kill sealed a 25-21 Lady Flame triumph.

Sparked by Bacon’s six kills, Liberty outhit Nebraska, .258 to .073, during set two. McCarty also chipped in with three kills and a trio of blocks during the stanza, while Jessica Nelson (R-Sr., OH, Tokyo, Japan) posted six digs for the Lady Flames.

Nebraska came back from the intermission with new-found energy, running off a 4-0 lead to open the third set. Liberty responded with a 4-0 spurt of its own, tying the score on a Nelson kill. However, Nebraska was able to take control of the stanza by breaking a 6-6 deadlock with five straight points. A pair of kills by right-side hitter Lindsey Licht and a Kayla Banwarth ace highlighted the run.

Liberty got no closer than four the rest of the stanza, which ended at 25-16, Nebraska, on Larson’s seventh kill of the set. The Huskers hit .448 during set three, as compared with Liberty’s .118. Bacon’s four kills led the Lady Flames in the third set.

Needing a victory in the fourth set to keep its season alive, the Lady Flames went back and forth with the Huskers through the first half of the stanza. Liberty led by two points, 8-6, when Scripko turned a slide attack into a kill, and the Lady Flames were still on top, 10-9, after Bacon’s kill off the big Nebraska block.

A powerful kill by Larson on the next point then turned the tide back in the home team’s favor, as it initiated a 6-0 run. Gates’ kill posted Nebraska to a 15-10 advantage. Liberty had one more rally remaining in the tank, ripping off a 4-1 burst and closing the deficit to 16-14 when Kallie Corbin’s (Jr., S, Beaverton, Ore.) dump fell in the middle of the unsuspecting defense.

A kill by Gates and a block by setter Sydney Anderson got Nebraska back on track, and ended the Lady Flames’ last serious threat. The Huskers wrapped up a 3-1 win with their 10th block of the evening, when Gates rejected Corbin’s dump attempt to make the final score of set four, 25-19.

Gates, a senior, hit .625 with five kills during set four, while Banwarth hustled her way to eight digs. Meanwhile, Scripko wrapped up her second consecutive stellar outing in the NCAA Tournament. Last season, the then-freshman notched 18 kills against California. This time around, she went over double figures again, thanks to five kills and a .571 attack percentage during the fourth and final stanza.

In addition to the previously mentioned offensive exploits of Bacon and Scripko, McCarty hit a team-high .412 for the match with eight kills and a team-high four blocks. The junior’s efforts increased her season attack percentage to .353, which set a new Liberty rally-scoring record.

Directing the Liberty offense was Big South Player of the Year Corbin, who fashioned a double-double with 33 assists and 12 digs. Her 33 helpers give the Oregon native 3,843 for her career, moving her into fourth place on Liberty’s all-time list.

Equaling Corbin’s 12 digs in her final collegiate match was Nelson, who also served for both of the Lady Flames’ aces. Freshman Kelly Haseman (DS/L, Three Rivers, Mich.) chipped in with 10 digs, while Scripko added nine digs and Bacon had eight.

For Nebraska, three players recorded double-digit kills for the match, as the Huskers outhit Liberty, .250 to .134. In addition to Larson’s 16 kills, Mueller put down 15 kills and Gates contributed 11, to go along with a match-best five blocks.

Setter Anderson put up 50 assists for victorious Nebraska, while Banwarth led all players in both aces (3) and digs (17).

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