CHARLESTON, S.C. - Liberty outlasted Charleston Southern in a five-set thriller in the Buccaneer Field House as CSU fell in Big South Conference play for the first time in the 2016 season. The Flames rallied back from a 2-1 deficit to take the 25-18, 12-25, 23-25, 25-19, 15-13 victory.
Hannah Western gave CSU (10-12, 5-1) the 8-7 lead at the crossover in the fifth set. The Bucs led 10-8 following a Macey LaPorte service ace and a Rachel Smith kill before Liberty's Leah Clayton took over. Clayton recorded a solo block and a trio of late kills to push the Flames to the 15-13 set win and hand CSU their first loss of the conference season.
The Bucs were the last Big South volleyball team to be undefeated in conference play heading into the match and CSU looked to be in control following strong performances in both the second and third frames. Liberty (11-9, 6-2) rallied behind Clayton's 24 kills and 19 digs to fight back and end CSU's winning streak at five.
Addison Kaderli led the Bucs on the afternoon with a team-high 17 kills. The sophomore outside hitter added nine digs and four blocks in narrowly missing out on the double-double. Connor Malone was also in double-digits with 12 kills and a .312 hitting percentage as CSU hit .195 as a team from the floor. Rachel Smith set up the offense with 46 assists and completed the double-double with 13 digs. Madison Martin (23) and Taylor Allman (20) led CSU's digging efforts in the match, while Brooke Monssen had a match-high six blocks.
Clayton led the Flames offense with her 24 kills-19 digs double-double as the Flames extended their conference winning streak to six matches with the five-set victory. Anna Gragg and Gabrielle Vess had 10 kills apiece, while Anna Willey had a match-high 50 assists in the win. Michelle Melendez led the Flames' defensive efforts with 22 digs.
CSU built a three-point lead late in the opening set as Klein drilled a kill to give the Bucs the 17-14 advantage. Gragg sparked a late Liberty run with four kills as the Flames recorded 11 of the final 12 points to take the opening set 25-18.
The Buccaneers responded in kind in the second set as CSU jumped ahead early with nine of the first 12 points. Hannah Western paced the Bucs' offense with five kills in the set as CSU went up double-digits at 15-5 following an LU attacking error. Kaderli connected on three late kills and LaPorte added an ace as the Bucs took the 25-12 set win into the break.
Monssen and Malone carried the CSU offense in the third set with five kills apiece, but it was Western that connected when it mattered for the Bucs late in the frame. With the score tied 22-22, Western sandwiched a Clayton kill with two of her own to give the Bucs the 24-23 lead. An LU attack error ended the set in favor of CSU to give the Bucs the 2-1 lead.
Clayton was the difference-maker for the Flames in the fourth set with six kills as Liberty evened the match with the 25-19 set win. The Flames never trailed in the set with Liberty building a 15-9 advantage following back-to-back kills by Vess to send the match into the fifth set.
Charleston Southern remains at home next weekend as the Buccaneers host UNC Asheville and High Point in a Big South volleyball weekend series in the Buccaneer Field House. CSU will host Asheville on Friday night with first serve set for 7 p.m. The Bucs will take on the Panthers on Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m.