Flames take Spartans to wire in last road game of season
March 23, 2014 | Pontiac, Mich.
Though Liberty University's men's lacrosse team went 0-2 on its weekend trip to Michigan, it showed it could compete with the top MCLA Division I teams in the country.
On Sunday afternoon, the Flames faced Michigan State University, which knocked Colorado from the No. 1 spot in the MCLA DI poll earlier this month after suffering its only two losses of the season to No. 3 Colorado State and No. 4 Brigham Young University.
In a game played at Notre Dame Prep in Pontiac, Mich., the Flames (7-3) took the Spartans (5-2) to the wire before falling, 15-14.
"It's been a transition from Division II to Division I and we hadn't had a real good idea of where we were as a team in comparison to the rest of the country," Liberty Head Coach Kyle McQuillan said. "Today, losing by one was a tough loss. It would have been a huge upset for an unranked team. Unfortunately, we didn't pull it off, but what we took away from this game is we can compete with the best of them."
The Flames strung together five goals in the second half to overcome an 11-7 deficit, seizing a 12-11 lead on back-to-back scores by sophomore forward Ryan Miller midway through the fourth quarter before the Spartans (5-2) responded with a three-goal run and held on for the one-goal win.
McQuillan said the Spartans were not dominant in any part of the game other than faceoffs. Junior Joseph Mikkelson (who's 6-feet, 2-inches tall and weighs 240 pounds) won 27 out of 33 chances against Liberty sophomore faceoff specialist Charles Fianko and freshman midfielder Chad Moore.
"We were better than Michigan State in a lot of areas, but in the faceoff department, they had their way with us," McQuillan said. "(Mikkelson) was very big, he had quick hands, and he was very capable of carrying the ball into the offensive zone. They scored four or five goals right off of the faceoff by winning it and scoring on transition, essentially on a four-on-three."
Due to the physicality of the Spartans' defense, the Flames got most of their offensive production from their midfielders, led by sophomores Brett Bernardo (five goals) and Bryce Mrakovich (four goals) as well as Moore (one goal, three assists).
"They had big, physical defenders that our attackmen struggled to get some separation from," McQuillan said. "The midfielders were having success dodging from up top and shooting from the outside."
He said the attack — including sophomore Miller (three goals) and senior Kurt Tobias (one goal) — still played a key role in cycling the ball and continuing to rotate and run the offense, drawing the defense to them and freeing up the midfielders for scoring chances.
Most of the Spartans' scoring came on transition or in man-up situations, which is how they netted the go-ahead goal to make it 13-12.
"Michigan State is very disciplined and runs a great fast break," McQuillan said. "It's the best team we've played all season and the best team we're going to play (until the MCLA DI National Championships). Our defense played very, very well. In six-on-six lacrosse, when we were prepared for them coming in, we were very successful in shutting them down."
That had a lot to do with junior goalie Ethan Kamholtz, who made 22 saves.
"Ethan had another great game," McQuillan said. "It was probably his best of the season, especially early on, when he made a couple big saves to keep it close for us."
Following their eight-game road stretch, the Flames will return home for their first contest at the Liberty Lacrosse Fields in more than a month, Friday at midnight against North Carolina State.