After a day packed with intense drama, Coach Bryan Rigg’s Flames took care of business when it mattered most. When all was said and done, Liberty captured its first ever ECVA East Coast Championship Saturday night at Maryland’s Reckord Armory.
The Flames managed to finish the day with a perfect 6-0 record after vanquishing several of the ECVA’s best teams. The team’s morning began with a relatively easy sweep of SUNY-Binghamton (25-15, 25-20), who was the third seed out of the North Division. Next, it was #21 Maryland, the second seed out of the Central Division. The host Terrapins had thoughts of an upset, jumping out to an early lead and closing the first set 25-16. Liberty bounced right back with a dominating 25-14 win in set two and managed to carry the momentum all the way to a 17-15 win in the third.
That set up a much anticipated matchup with defending ECVA champion Florida, ranked #5 nationally. Playing without their two starting outside hitters, the Gators were still dominant throughout the day, sweeping both Binghamton and Maryland before taking the first set against Liberty 25-22. Once again, the Flames roared back to take the next two 25-17, 15-11, thanks to the stellar play of setter Kaden Knepper.
Despite winning the pool, Liberty’s efforts were not enough to earn a bye to the semifinals. Instead, they would have to survive another test, this time from #10 Central Florida in a single set quarterfinal. The Knights had just beaten #7 Penn State and were riding a wave of momentum into the playoffs, but after the back and forth affair, Liberty emerged with a 26-24 win. Freshman opposite Josh Knapp and senior middle Eugene Dejesus were instrumental in the team’s victory.
The semifinal match pitted Liberty against its South Division rival Virginia Tech and gave the Flames an opportunity to avenge last weekend’s loss to the Hokies in the divisional championship. Liberty, clearly playing with confidence and something to prove, overwhelmed #14 Virginia Tech for a 2-0 sweep (25-11, 25-23). It was the team’s third win over the Hokies this season in their four matchups.
The biggest surprises of the day took place in the other side of the bracket, where #16 Delaware, playing without all-star outside hitter A.J. Schaeffer, managed to upset Florida 29-27 in its quarterfinal match before losing to unranked North Carolina State. The Wolfpack stunned everyone by sweeping #7 Penn State, #10 Central Florida, and Buffalo in pool play and earning the top seed in the playoffs. Playing like men possessed, middle blocker Jaysen Zaleski and outside hitter Kai Dunston, then led NC State to a 2-1 win over Delaware (25-22, 22-25, 15-13) to punch their ticket to the finals against Liberty.
Liberty and NC State had played twice earlier this season, with Liberty escaping both times by narrow margins. The first set was a similar story, as Liberty pulled away down the stretch for a 27-25 win. The Flames continued to get hotter throughout the match, however, and the second set was no contest. Knepper’s defense and pressure from the service line propelled Liberty to a 25-16 win. A service error by the Wolfpack ended the match and sent the Flames dancing in celebration.
Knepper, Dejesus, and Knapp were voted onto the All-ECVA Team, along with Zalinski and Dunston of NC State, Jack Jagodzinski of Virginia Tech, and Quinlan Kauffman of Delaware.
In Division II, Penn State-B claimed its fifth East Coast title in just the last seven years. The Nittany Lions, ranked #1 in the country in the latest NCVF Division III poll, defeated Buffalo-B, Virginia Tech-C, and Canisius in pool play before beating Buffalo-B once again in the semifinals and Liberty-B in the finale.
The championship match was a back and forth affair, as Liberty-B pulled ahead with a win in the first set. Penn State-B responded with a strong performance in the second set, cruising to a 25-18 win. The deciding set was neck and neck until the final minutes, when Penn State-B pulled ahead for a 15-11 win, thanks to the relentless attack of outside hitter Brad Colditz and middle blocker Kyle Martini. Libero Waldemar Rivera-Berrios’s passing and defense were impeccable throughout the day, earning him the tournament’s MVP award.
Rivera-Berrios, Colditz, and Martini were joined by Liberty’s Cody Reinsma and Lincoln Bergey, Virginia Tech-B’s Griff Bailey, and Buffalo-B’s Shyne Mon on the All-ECVA Team.
The ECVA’s best will now look ahead to Denver and the 2019 NCVF National Championship Tournament, set for April 18-20.
Original Article From: https://www.ecvavolleyball.org/news_article/show/1010573#.XKoTd4J_HZ0.twitter