Flames check emotions, fend off rally by visiting Volunteers
March 29, 2015 | Lynchburg, Va.
Liberty University's men's lacrosse team's 14-10 win over the University of Tennessee, Sunday afternoon at the Liberty Lacrosse Field, was a character builder.
Perhaps still recovering from a strong midnight showing against Georgia just 36 hours before, the 15th-ranked Flames (8-3, 3-0 SouthEastern Lacrosse Conference Northwest Region) lagged somewhat on the field versus the unranked Volunteers (2-3, 1-1).
The unexpectedly tight game was made more tense by contested calls and liberal flag-throwing from game officials, as well as heated exchanges between the two teams.
"I'm proud of the way that the guys represented themselves and this team," Head Coach Kyle McQuillan said after the final buzzer. "I felt like they played with a lot of class, dignity, and character. The level of lacrosse was not up to our standard … but I'm proud of the way they responded and proud of their efforts from a character and morality standpoint."
With emotions running high and an abundance of penalties, possession became the name of the game. Junior defenseman and faceoff specialist Charles Fianko won 20 of 30 total faceoffs, giving the Flames the edge and opportunities they needed to secure the victory.
"I'm as good as my teammates make me," Fianko said, explaining that his fellow Flames coach him from the sidelines, calling advice and position cues. "I'm just really proud that we pulled it out and kept our composure. There were some times when things got really heated between us and their coach and whatnot … our coach makes it a big point for us to just go out there and be efficient, and that's what we did. I'm really proud of our guys."
The Flames found the back of the net three times and the Volunteers once in the first quarter. Liberty added five more to the scores before the half, but the Volunteers followed closely with four of their own.
In the third quarter, the Flames outscored the Volunteers 4-2, then survived a fourth-quarter four-goal push by Tennessee to score twice more and secure the win.
Junior midfielder Brett Bernardo led the Flames in scoring with five goals, contributing three assists along the way. Senior attack Chris Armstrong added three goals and two assists of his own; and junior midfielder Bryce Mrakovich, freshman attack Nick Lombardozzi and junior attack Ryan Miller each scored twice each.
Miller assisted three goals, Mrakovich two, and freshman midfielder Sam King set up two scoring opportunities himself.
|Flames freshman defensive middie Ronnie Stringfield fends off a Volunteers long-stick middie on Sunday.|
While the game may not have been the team's prettiest, it contained glimpses of the Flames' strengths on the field. McQuillan and his players alike were optimistic about their trajectory for the rest of the season, including their upcoming game versus 12th-ranked rival Florida State, April 10 at 10 p.m.
"We're super stoked," Fianko proclaimed. "(Florida State) is having a great year. They took down the No. 3 team in the nation, so we know they're good. After last year, we kind of have some bad blood with them — we ended their undefeated season — so we know they're going to be gunning for us."
"It's a huge game for us," McQuillan added. "With the rivalry we've created with Florida State, that'll be our biggest home game of the season and arguably one of the biggest games that we've played at Liberty since 2010. We're looking forward to it, and we've got a lot of time to prepare and get ready."
Much of that preparation will focus on developing consistency. The Flames have accumulated plenty of wins this season; but all agreed that as opponents get tougher, pulling wins out when not playing their best will become more difficult.
"I feel like we came out against Tennessee and just didn't play our brand of lacrosse," McQuillan said. "I would love to see these guys day-in and day-out, game-in and game-out be the same team. In order to be the team that we want to be at nationals and at the SELC playoffs, we need to be more consistent."