Flames start new chapter as MCLA DI squad Friday night
February 18, 2014 | Lynchburg, Va.
Liberty University Head Coach Kyle McQuillan is eager to see the Flames test their mettle against Men's Collegiate Lacrosse Association Division I competition when they face off against Wake Forest in their first game of the spring, Friday at 10 p.m. at the Liberty Lacrosse Fields.
"We've been practicing for a long time," McQuillan said. "We've done everything we can and we're excited to get things started. We're confident. We think we're as good as we think we are and now we've just got to go out and prove it."
The Flames, who finished ranked No. 3 in their final season as an MCLA DII program, haven't been able to practice outside since last week's snowfall, but McQuillan doesn't think they'll be rusty on opening night.
"Snow is kind of hindering our ability to get outdoors and we still have a couple inches on our field," he said before Liberty held an indoor practice Tuesday afternoon. "We're prepared for it. We're ready. It's time for us to make this transition and we've got the players and the ability to do it successfully."
The Flames were ranked No. 8 in the SouthEastern Lacrosse Conference Division I preseason poll, and projected to finish runner-up to Virginia Tech in the Northwest Region standings. Liberty received 15 votes to rank 30th, three spots ahead of the Hokies, in the MCLA Division I preseason top-25 poll.
Based on the strength of this year's squad, McQuillan anticipates the Flames gaining momentum and moving up the ranks into the top 25 as the season unfolds.
"It's just going to come down to playing games and facing other programs," he said.
"Now that we have an opponent and a target, it's going to help a lot in building that team camaraderie."
McQuillan says Liberty's midfield will be a game-changing force this spring. The Flames feature two sophomore transfers — Brett Bernardo from Marist (N.Y.) College and Chad Moore from Mercer (Ga.) University — as well as sophomore Bryce Mrakovich, last year's team MVP.
|Sophomore attack Ryan Miller was the leading scorer in MCLA Division II last year with 67 goals and 38 assists.|
"We're just as potent offensively as we were last year," McQuillan said. "Playing stiffer competition from week to week, the additions we've been able to make on the offensive side of the ball will help us. We have a lot of young freshmen who will have an opportunity to prove themselves as the season goes on."
Defensively, the Flames return a veteran corps in front of junior goalie Ethan Kamholtz, who McQuillan would rank as one of the top five net-minders in MCLA DI.
Liberty will look to sophomore faceoff specialist Charles Fianko to win ball possession and long-stick middie Mike Zumpano to spark the Flames' transition game.
Zumpano, a first-year graduate student in his fourth year of eligibility, helped McQuillan revive the program in 2010.
"He started in a leadership role as team president from Game 1, and he has continued to show his leadership both on and off the field for this program," McQuillan said.
While Wake Forest has started the season at 0-3 with losses to Clemson, Vanderbilt, and Georgia, the Flames can't afford to overlook the Demon Deacons, or New Hampshire, which visits Liberty on Sunday at 11 a.m.
"We need to make a pretty good impact this weekend for the home crowd because we spend the month of March on the road," McQuillan said. "We're getting a lot of media attention and hopefully, we will have some success."
After Sunday's game against the Wildcats, the Flames play their next eight games away, including a spring break trip to Florida for four games against Florida State, South Florida, Central Florida, and Florida from March 10-14.
"That's definitely going to be a test for us, away from our home environment," McQuillan said. "That will give us a good idea of where we stand."