HPU Volleyball advances to title with five-set win over Liberty

• Sophomores Molly Livingston (17) and Katie Tylman (16) both equaled career-highs in kills in the match.
• Junior Haley Barnes posted her fourth straight double-double and 19th of the year with 11 kills and 15 digs.
• With the win, High Point advances to the Big South Championship against top-seeded Radford at 4 p.m. on Sunday.

LYNCHBURG, Va. – It took five sets and contributions from everyone on the roster, but the High Point University volleyball team earned a spot in Sunday’s Big South Championship with a 3-2 triumph over Liberty.

The Panthers (22-9) took the first and third sets (25-22 and 25-20) while the Flames (16-12) took second and fourth (25-22 and 25-23) to force the deciding game five.

In the final frame, sophomore Molly Livingston gave HPU a 1-0 lead with her 16th kill. From there, neither team could gain a two-point lead until a kill from sophomore Katie Tylman made it 8-6, HPU.

The Purple & White wouldn’t trail again as sophomore Abby Broadstreet posted two kills down the stretch to give High Point a 12-9 edge. The teams exchanged service errors before sophomore Jordan Hefner’s kill gave the Panthers match-point opportunity and a Liberty ball-handling error ended the match (15-11).

High Point will take on top-seeded Radford at 4 p.m. on Sunday in the Vines Center. The two squads split their regular season meetings with both teams winning at home. It’s the Panthers second trip the Big South title game after HPU won the championship in 2010.

“The group that we have in our locker room is such a great group of young women and they deserves this,” head coach Tom Mendoza said. “I’m excited that they have given themselves the opportunity to play in the final tomorrow and that’s been one of our goals all year, but not just to get there, to win it. We know Radford well, and they’re a great team, it will come down to which team executes the way that it needs to in order to win.”

Livingston (17 kills) and Tylman (16 kills) each equaled their career highs in kills to lead HPU’s balanced attack that racked up 67 kills on the night. Meanwhile junior Haley Barnes tallied her 19th double-double of the year with 11 kills and 15 digs.

Similarly, Broadstreet posted a season-high 10 kills to go with 12 digs to register her first double-double of 2016.

In total, HPU posted 79 digs with senior Megan Kennedy tallying 20 on the night. At the net, the Panthers notched 11 blocks behind six from Livingston.

From their setter spot, junior Carly Jimenez (29 assists and 13 digs) and freshman Jenna Smith (23 assists and nine digs) orchestrated an offense that hit over .200 in the three set wins.

Both teams finished the night hitting .193, but it was HPU’s .400 to .111 edge in the final set that made the difference.

In the first set, the two teams split the first 34 points (17-17) before Livingston’s fourth kill gave HPU an 18-17 edge. From there, the Panthers led the rest of the way as Tylman ended the hard-fought set with her third kill of the match (25-22).

The Flames, however, responded by vaulting out to a 9-4 advantage in the second frame. But the Panthers bounced right back with a 9-2 run to even the score at 11-all on an ace from Smith.

Liberty scored the next point and, despite HPU pulling within one on multiple occasions, never trailed the rest of the way taking the set 25-22.

Out of the break, the third frame was tied 8-all before HPU went on a 5-1 run to gain control (13-9). Tylman took it from there posting four kills down the stretch as the Purple & White claimed a 25-20 victory.

Despite another fast start by the Flames in the fourth set (11-8), the Panthers fought right back to even the score at 14-all. However, Liberty scored the next five points to regain command (19-14).

Thanks to two kills and a solo block by redshirt-freshman Olivia Barr, HPU was able to pull back within one (24-23) before the Flames forced game five with a kill.