No. 14 Liberty routs No. 9 Grand Valley State in Michigan
March 14, 2013 | Allendale, Mich.
Liberty University's men's lacrosse team hasn't soaked up many rays, but it has enjoyed some northern exposure on this week's spring break trip to Michigan and Indiana.
"We've seen a lot of increase in notoriety since the beginning of the season and it helps with recruiting," head coach Kyle McQuillan said after the 14th-ranked Flames' 15-7 triumph Thursday night at Grand Valley State, last year's national runner-up which dropped from No. 2 to No. 9 in the latest Men's Collegiate Lacrosse Association (MCLA) Division II national poll. "To have the ranking that we have goes so far to pull in students and helps with the exposure. Liberty has become such a big name in the country collegiately, both academically and athletically. Especially since the men's and women's basketball teams qualified for the NCAA tournaments, people will see us and they'll say, ‘We know Liberty.'"
The Flames (6-0) are looking to make a name for themselves in lacrosse in their final season competing at the MCLA Division II level before moving up to Division I. Wins like Thursday's against Grand Valley State are giant leaps in the right direction.
"That was the best team we've played in the season so far and the best team we've played in program history," McQuillan said, noting this was the first time since 2009 that the Lakers (2-3) have lost at home. "Because of what Grand Valley State stands for in our league — they're a perennial power, not just in their region, but in the country — for us to be able to come in and beat them that decisively was pretty impressive. I do think this is the biggest win in program history, since its rebirth in 2010. The good thing is I think there are going to be many more that are going to trump it."
Both teams had beaten Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) by six goals on the road in recent weeks, which was Liberty's first win over a ranked opponent since last year's Southeast Lacrosse Conference (SELC) playoffs.
Against Grand Valley State, Liberty was the aggressor from the outset, striking early and forcing the Lakers to try to play catch-up. The Flames led 5-2 after the first quarter and 8-2 at the half.
"We came out and were able to score the first two goals on them," McQuillan said. "To draw first blood was huge. We were able to catch them early, catch them by surprise, and take their fans out of the game. I was pleasantly surprised by how seriously the guys took it. They were able to follow our game plan, to take the lead and protect it … following the blueprint exactly for what we've done over the past four or five games."
Junior attack Kurt Tobias paced all scorers with six goals and two assists.
"We always try to get the ball to Kurt because he makes goals happen," McQuillan said, noting Tobias scored three goals from the outside and three by dodging defenders and taking it directly to the net. "He's great with the ball and has a great outside shot. He was our top performer."
Two freshman, midfielder Bryce Mrakovich (four goals, one assist) and Ryan Miller (three goals, two assists) were a close second, followed by junior middie Derek Haywood (two goals) and senior attack Joe Gargiulo (one goal, one assist).
"Ryan Miller's goals came from our set offense," McQuillan said. "He is phenomenal at taking guys one-on-one and beating them. Their slides (defensive help) were coming in late in certain situations," and Miller capitalized, he said.
Though the Flames won only 10 of 25 faceoffs, their defense prevented the Lakers from getting many high-percentage shots against sophomore goalie Ethan Kamholtz, who made 15 saves.
"Grand Valley had the opportunities to score," McQuillan said, though Liberty outshot its hosts 28-21. "They had possession enough, but our defense did a great job of only giving them the outside shots that Ethan was able to identify pretty quickly and jump on."
The defense forced more than 10 turnovers, picking off passes and stealing the ball in one-on-one situations, as well as knocking it down on transition.
Senior left-side middie Mike Zumpano ignited the Flames' attack by picking up six ground balls and bringing them from the defensive to the offensive end with tremendous speed on transition.
"No game is perfect," McQuillan said. "There are always things we can improve on. But, overall, it was a great team effort and people definitely stepped up in a great way."
Liberty is targeting one of 10 automatic bids to MCLA nationals by winning the SELC regular season title.
"I don't think we'll be underestimated much longer," McQuillan said. "We're starting to set the precedent, to gain some respect around the league. I would imagine next week, if we're able to beat Indiana Tech and Taylor (on Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 11:30 a.m. in Indiana), it's going to show pretty strongly in the polls. People are going to start giving recognition to us, not just in the Southeast but in the country.
"We want the respect and the high rankings," he added. "We're ready to be the dominant program in the SELC and the nation. My expectation, and these guys continue to prove it to me and to other people, is that this is a national championship-caliber team. We don't want to get ahead of ourselves, but in the back of our minds, we need to send a message and make a strong transition (to Division I next year). Winning a national championship at the DII level would be the sweetest way. Then we will have accomplished everything we can."