Pirates open volleyball season against Liberty

ECU Pirates

ECU volleyball team 2021 (ECU Sports Information photo)

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GREENVILLE, N.C. – East Carolina begins its second season under Adler Augustin’s direction Friday when the Pirates face off against host Liberty in Lynchburg, Va.

The match is slated for a 6 p.m. start inside the new Liberty Arena and will be streamed live via the ESPN+ platform.

During the abbreviated 2021 spring campaign – which featured a schedule that enumerated just 12 matches as well as a scaled back NCAA Tournament – the Purple and Gold put together a 4-8 overall record and 1-7 American Athletic Conference mark. Among the victories included a sweep of the North Carolina Tar Heels in Greenville.

While the fall roster features 11 newcomers, the Pirates do welcome back their top-three point scorers from the spring, including preseason All-American Athletic Conference selection Bri Wood who is on the cusp of becoming the sixth player in program history to record 1,000 career kills and digs. She collected her 1,000th kill in an ECU sweep of Temple back in March. Classmate and outside hitter Sydney Kleinman sits just 259 kills away from her 1,000th in an East Carolina uniform.

Fourth-year senior outside hitter Natalie Tyson was the third-leading scorer for ECU just a few months ago and was one of five Pirates to play in all 47 sets. She tallied 119.5 points on the strength of 105 kills (2.23 per set) while finishing the season with four double-doubles. Classmate and setter Janiece Jefferies is back in fold as well and will continue to vie for a spot in the starting lineup. She was tabbed the AAC Defensive Player of the Week March 22 after producing career highs in assists (29) and digs (25) in a five-set win over Davidson.

The newest crop of Pirates to call Greenville home is a big one with 11 newcomers set to don the Purple and Gold for the first time in 2021. Kianie Cummings, a 6-4 middle blocker who played for Florida SouthWestern State in 2019, is the lone transfer in the group. She helped the Buccaneers to 16 wins and a fourth-place finish at the FCSAA State Tournament during the program’s inaugural season. East Carolina has added some height into the mix with its 10-member freshman class, including 6-5 middle blocker Amelia Davis (Denver, Colo.) and 6-3 right side Sophia Kruczko (Cary, N.C.).

The back row spots are up for grabs with a promising crew of underclassmen ready to make their marks. Sophomore Sariah Schulteis played in eight matches during the spring while freshmen Tia Shum (London, Ontario), Anaiah Jones (Charlotte, N.C.) and Alex Singleton (Spring, Texas) will provide some options defensively. East Carolina also welcomes an exciting duo of freshmen setters in Payton Evenstad (Fairibault, Minn.) and Kenzie Beckham (Austin, Texas).

Returning to a more familiar scheduling format, ECU will host 13 matches inside Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum as part of its 2021 fall competition slate. The Pirates will face off against Atlantic Coast Conference members North Carolina and NC State, as well as regional opponents Coastal Carolina, UNCW and Appalachian State, during non-conference action before delving into American Athletic Conference play with a double round-robin schedule. The league’s regular season champion will earn the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Championship.

A Look At Liberty
Liberty ended the 2021 spring campaign with a 5-9 overall record and 5-7 Atlantic Sun Conference mark. All of the Flames’ victories occurred against North Alabama (four wins) and Bellarmine as they captured sixth place in the league standings before bowing out of the conference tournament with a three-set loss to Kennesaw State. As a team, Liberty averaged 12.38 kills, 11.47 assists, 1.34 aces, 13.87 digs and 2.74 blocks per set with a .197 hitting percentage. Trinity Watts enjoyed quite the debut season in the spring, leading the team in kills (137) and kills per set (2.91) on her way to Atlantic Sun All-Freshman Team accolades. Senior Amaya Williams also returns after running the Flames’ offense to the tune of 8.87 assists per set. On the defensive end of things, Lydia Burts paced the unit in blocks per set (1.57) while Lilly Kruse was tops on the squad in digs per set (3.32). Trevor Johnson is in his fourth season as head coach at Liberty.

The Liberty Series
Liberty is 5-0 in the series with ECU. However, the programs have not met since 2010 when the Flames captured a three-set win at the East Carolina Classic in Greenville. The Pirates are 0-1 against the Flames in Lynchburg, dropping a four-set decision at the 2003 Liberty Invitational.

Non-Conference Note
ECU has enjoyed a great deal of success in non-conference matches since 2013, accruing a 69-23 record. Entering the fall, the Pirates have won 16 of their last 18 non-league affairs.

Up Next
East Carolina heads to the Triangle Sept. 3-4 for a trio of matches against Wofford, NC State and North Carolina.

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