Flames cruise past Aquinas, gear up for Grand Valley State
March 13, 2013 | Grand Rapids, Mich.
Balanced scoring is always a goal for Liberty University men's lacrosse team, which has started the season in full attack mode.
In Wednesday's first game of a four-game spring break road trip, the Flames (5-0) had nine players contribute at least a goal, an assist or both in a 17-6 victory over Aquinas College near Grand Rapids, Mich.
"It is great to kind of balance it out," Liberty head coach Kyle McQuillan said. "You don't want to see one guy with all of the goals. When teams look at your scorers, when you're more balanced, it's tougher for them to defend."
Temperatures in the 20s and a trace of snow on the ground didn't seem to affect the Flames' attack, which only heated up as the game went on, scoring seven goals in the first half and seven more in the fourth quarter alone.
Junior attack Kurt Tobias and freshman midfielder Bryce Mrakovich each netted four goals, with Tobias also notching an assist, to pace Liberty's attack. Junior midfielder Derek Haywood distributed three assists and scored one goal, freshman attack Ryan Miller fired two goals and dished out one assist, and senior attack Joe Gargiulo tallied two goals to round out the scoring.
"We tried to give everybody some playing time, so we could kind of spread out the punishment and get some needed rest," McQuillan said. "We have a big game against Grand Valley (Thursday night). If we have a game circled on our schedule for this road trip, that's it."
Against Aquinas (1-4), Liberty seized a 3-1 lead after the first quarter and stretched it to 7-2 by halftime.
"We were in pretty good control," McQuillan said. "We were able to do what we've been able to do all year, which is to come out and take a lead early and protect that lead. It took us a little time to get some separation, but it was kind of the same story. We've been able to slowly work them down and have our guys be successful with what we're working on, out of our transition game."
Sophomore goalie Ethan Kamholtz, who has one of the lowest goals-against averages in the nation, needed only to make 10 saves on the day while giving up five goals. He was called for a crosschecking penalty which forced Asa Keimig to come out of his midfield spot and relieve him, allowing one goal.
"Our defense did a really great job at breaking up their shots before they were able to get to Ethan," McQuillan said. "They had very few opportunities on our net."
Liberty outshot the Saints 35-16, maintaining offensive pressure throughout the contest.
"We were taking a lot of shots, spraying them from all over the place," McQuillan said. "We were hitting a lot of pipes, especially in the first half, when we hit eight or nine pipes."
Freshman faceoff specialist Charles Fianko won 16 of 22 faceoffs for the game, sparking the Flames' transition game.
McQuillan expects a much stiffer test from Grand Valley State on Thursday night.
"They are a perennial powerhouse within the MCLA, for the entire nation," he said, noting the Lakers (2-2) return the majority of their lineup from last year's team that lost to St. Thomas (Minn.) by one goal in the national championship game. "They're off to a bit of a rough start this year, but they're very well coached and they recruit very well. They lost one of their leading attackmen, but they don't have one or two superstars. They've got a lot of depth. We're expecting our toughest game of the year so far."
He is looking forward to being pushed after Liberty has coasted to lopsided wins in all five of its games to date.
"It's a good test for us," McQuillan said. "I don't feel we've been challenged as of yet, where the pressure's on and we need a goal. How are we going to react to a team that is as talented or close to as talented as we are? That's something we need in order to be ready for the playoffs."
He would love for the Flames have the chance to face St. Thomas in their last year of competition in MCLA Division II before moving up to Division I next spring.
"If there is a team that is the perennial power, it's St. Thomas, which has won three national championships in the past four years," McQuillan said. "Hopefully, we'll have the opportunity to play them at the national tournament this year."