Liberty Draws No. 8 Penn State in NCAA First Round

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The Liberty volleyball team, the 2011 Big South champion, will meet four-time defending national champion Penn State in the first round of the 2011 NCAA Division I Women's Volleyball Championship's Lexington Regional, as announced by the NCAA selection committee.

Liberty's (20-12) opening-round matchup at No. 8 national seed Penn State (23-7) will take place at Recreation Building in University Park, Pa., on Friday at 7:30 p.m. The winner of the Liberty-Penn State match will face the winner of Friday's 5 p.m. match between American (23-10) and Delaware (20-12), Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

"We have the opportunity to represent the university, to represent Christ," Liberty head coach Shane Pinder stated. "Hopefully, we will be a light on that campus, in terms of how we compete, how we handle ourselves, how we carry ourselves. It's a tremendous challenge, but I think this group will rise to the challenge and compete hard there."

The Lady Flames qualified for the NCAA Tournament by virtue of winning the Big South Volleyball Championship with a 3-0 victory over Radford in the conference final on Nov. 20. Liberty won the conference championship for the first time since 2008, and for the sixth time in program history.

Liberty's most recent tournament appearance, in 2008, saw the Lady Flames travel to Lincoln, Neb., to face the No. 4 seed Nebraska Cornhuskers. Liberty won the second set in a 3-1 setback to the Huskers. In fact the Lady Flames have taken a set from each of their last two NCAA Tournament opponents.

For the fifth season in a row, Liberty has won 20 or more matches, claimed the Big South regular season championship, and qualified for the conference final. Liberty placed four players on the All-Big South Team, had three conference all-tournament team players, and Loren Thomas was named Big South Tournament MVP.

After opening this season at 9-11 against a challenging early schedule, the Lady Flames have gone 11-1 in their most recent 12 matches.

Penn State brings a 23-7 overall record into the postseason, having finished second in the Big Ten with a 16-4 conference mark. The Nittany Lions have won 24 straight matches in NCAA Tournament play, a streak that began with their championship run in 2007.

Head Coach Russ Rose is in his 33rd year at Penn State, and has posted a 1,056-171 overall record. He guided the team on an NCAA Division I-record 109-match winning streak from 2007 to 2010.  

"Penn State is the most storied program in college volleyball history. They are the four-time defending champions, and Russ Rose, obviously, is a Hall of Fame coach," Pinder added. "There will be a big crowd there. They have great fan support. We're excited about the opportunity to play at that level, in that type of environment. Down the road, that's eventually where we want to be."

The 2011 NCAA Division I Women's Volleyball Championship will culminate with the Final Four, taking place Dec. 15 and 17 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.