Liberty (13-9, 8-2 Big South) won the match by scores of 22-25, 25-21, 22-25, 25-18, and 21-19. Gardner-Webb (11-14, 1-9 Big South) outhit the Flames, .251 to .250, and the Runnin' Bulldogs tallied more kills, 79-64.
Celarek led Gardner-Webb in kills with 20, followed by Taylor Lillard with 15 and Hannah Driscoll with 11. Milstead led GWU with 24 digs, followed by Amanda Sahm with 16 and Kacy O'Connor with 14. Sahm also tallied 36 assists on the evening to lead the team, followed by Tinsley Fain with 25. Gardner-Webb's leading blocker was Kaelyn Dyson who had five overall blocks.
Liberty was led in kills by Leah Clayton with 21, in digs by Margaret Latchford with 28, in assists by Anna Willey with 52 and Anna Gragg in blocks with six.
Liberty stepped out to an early 5-2 lead to start the first set, yet the Runnin' Bulldogs answered with a 5-1 run to take a 7-6 lead on a kill by Hannah Lancaster. The Flames would then go on a 9-4 run to claim a 15-11 advantage, but that would be the largest of the set for Liberty as GWU would rally with an 8-3 run to take a 19-18 lead after a Lancaster kill. Liberty would regain the lead at 22-20, yet the Runnin' Bulldogs scored five unanswered points, highlighted by a pair of kills by both Hannah Driscoll and Taylor Lillard to claim the 25-22 win.
The second set opened in Liberty's favor, as the Flames jumped out to an 11-4 advantage, and would control the majority of the set, leading as high as nine at 24-15. Gardner-Webb would not go down without a fight, as the Runnin' Bulldogs strung together six consecutive points, including two service aces by Emma Milstead, to pull within four points, but Liberty would claim the set, 25-21.
Gardner-Webb would seize control early in the third set, opening with a 5-2 spurt that included a pair of smashes by Nicole Celarek. Liberty would pull within one point at 7-6, but the Runnin' Bulldogs would answer with a 10-2 rally to push the lead to 17-8. The Flames would close the gap to within two points at 24-22, but GWU would respond with a kill by Lillard to earn the 25-22 set victory.
Liberty would open the fourth set with a 6-2 run to take an early advantage that they would maintain throughout the set. The Runnin' Bulldogs would try to pull even with the Flames with a brief 3-1 spurt to move within 14-10 on a Celarek kill, and also a 4-1 run to set the score at 18-15 following a kill from Kaelyn Dyson. Liberty would follow that with a 7-3 run to take a 25-18 set win and send the match to a decisive fifth-set.
Play was tight throughout the fifth set as there were 16 ties and eight lead changes. Gardner-Webb would jump out to an early 7-4 lead following a service ace by Fain, yet Liberty would answer with four straight points to take an 8-7 lead. The two teams would trade leads four times until Liberty would take a 14-13 lead. GWU would score twice to take a 15-14 lead following an ace by Milstead, yet Liberty would respond to then take a 16-15 lead. The Runnin' Bulldogs would fight out elimination three more times, until Liberty was able to string together two consecutive points to take the set, 21-19, and also take the overall match win.
Gardner-Webb will return to action Tuesday evening, hitting the road to face UNC Asheville at 7:00 pm. Live video of the match can be seen on the Big South Network (www.bigsouthsports.com).