The Liberty volleyball team fell to No. 8 seed and four-time defending national champion Penn State, 3-0 (25-16, 25-16, 25-16) Friday night in front of 2,236 fans at Recreation Building in the first round of the 2011 NCAA Division I Women's Volleyball Championship.
The Nittany Lions (24-7) will advance to the second round, where they will face Delaware on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in Recreation Building. Delaware defeated American, 3-1, in Friday's first match in University Park.
The Big South champion Lady Flames, making their sixth NCAA Tournament appearance and first since 2008, end their season following the loss with a 20-13 overall record. The 2011 season saw Liberty won 20 matches for the fifth campaign in a row.
In a battle of two of the top 50 blocking teams in the nation, Liberty outblocked Penn State, 5-4. The Nittany Lions connected at a .337 pace, compared to .075 from Liberty. Penn State won the digs battle by 10, 52-42.
Liberty's senior libero Kelly Haseman, making her second career NCAA postseason start, led all players with 18 digs. Haseman, the program's all-time record holder, finishes her career with 1,989 career digs, good for fourth place all-time in Big South history.
Liberty held an early 5-3 lead after kills by Melissa Racz, Lillie Happel and Kendle Rollins. The Lady Flames led, 10-9, following a Jade Cracycraft kill, but the Nittany Lions responded with a 4-0 rally, featuring back-to-back kills by Ariel Scott, to take the lead at 13-10. The guests rebounded, slicing the deficit to one, 14-13, on a Happel kill.
Penn State then scored six of the game's next eight points, receiving winners from three players during the run while building their advantage to five, 20-15. The hosts continued the run, winning set one, 25-16. In all, the Nittany Lions ended the set with an 11-3 surge.
Penn State hit .282 during set one in earning 15 kills, while Liberty posted a .053 attack percentage. Scott led all players with seven set-one kills, while Happel paced Liberty with four.
Set two went differently for the host Nittany Lions as they went on a 9-0 burst to gain an earlier edge, 10-3, with Scott added four kills. Trailing 13-6, the Lady Flames scored back-to-back points, with Racz sending down a kill and Rollins and Loren Thomas combining for a block. Penn State extended its lead to double digits, 18-8, with a five-point run.
Liberty began to gain footing late in the set, with Happel and Craycraft earning kills during a 3-0 rally to make it 21-13. The Lady Flames drew to within seven, 22-15, on a Becca Haraf service ace, but Penn State won set two, 25-16, to take a 2-0 match lead.
Penn State hit .387 during set two, compared to a .077 clip from the Lady Flames. Scott added seven more kills, while Craycraft led the Lady Flames with four kills. Haseman collected 10 digs during the second set.
The Lady Flames used the block to keep set three close, posting three blocks during their first eight points, as Penn State led 11-8 after 19 serves. Happel scored a kill to cut the deficit to two at 11-9. Katie Kabbes and Martin tallied two kills apiece in a 5-0 rally, and the hosts extended their margin back up to eight points, 18-10.
Happel stopped the rally with a kill, leading off a stretch of six-straight rally points. Down 23-14, Rebecca Warren sent down a kill, followed by a Thomas winner. Penn State clinched the match on a block, advancing by the same 25-16 margin victory during set three.
Penn State converted at a .353 clip, while posting 17 kills in set three, and Liberty hit .100. Martin scored six set-three kills, while Thomas had three kills and two blocks in the third session for Liberty.
For the match, Happel led Liberty with nine kills, while Thomas contributed six kills and four blocks. Thomas' four blocks tie Liberty's postseason single-match record. Rollins posted three blocks, while Ansley Gebben checked in with eight digs. Craycraft paced Liberty with 16 assists.
For Penn State, Scott posted a match-high 16 kills, hitting .452. Micha Hancock notched a double-double, dishing out 26 assists and collecting 10 digs. Maddie Martin totaled 10 digs, as did Ali Longo.