Flames equipping four teams, 24 players for NCPA Nationals
April 9, 2014 | Lynchburg, Va.
With 24 players, four coaches, two student volunteers, and one bus driver, Liberty University's paintball team will advance a full army to this weekend's National Collegiate Paintball Association Championships in Lakeland, Fla., when it leaves Lynchburg, Va., at 6 a.m. Thursday.
"We are the only school this year competing in both Class A and Class AA and we have the largest number of teams competing at nationals," Flames Head Coach Todd Hoglund said, noting they entered one team in each class at last year's nationals. "Having multiple teams definitely gives us an advantage, as well as having the facilities on campus and being able to practice as much as we do."
There are 15 teams in the Class A nationals bracket and 50 in the Class AA pool. Texas A&M also has three teams competing in Class AA, but none at the Class A level.
Liberty, which has been ranked as the No. 1 Class AA program in the country all season — barely ahead of Rochester Institute of Technology, the University of Texas, Texas A&M, and Penn State University — hasn't received a Class A ranking as of yet.
"We didn't play a Class A season this year because there weren't any teams close enough to play," Hoglund said, noting one of the favorites in that bracket is the University of Connecticut, the Northeast Conference champion that has lost just one game this year. "We're definitely flying under the radar."
He has high expectations for his 10-player Class A team and at least two of the three five-player Class AA squads.
"We definitely have a team that can go all the way this year," Hoglund said, noting the team's highest national finishes were third in 2012 and fourth in 2010 and 2011. "I definitely think we have a chance to win with our A team."
He runs it similar to a hockey team, with 10 players subbing in and out.
Liberty's starting five are junior Aaron Thompson, who can play anywhere on the field, senior Aaron Westafer, who specializes on the snakeside, senior center Matt Robbins, senior Noah Burns, who can play anywhere, and junior Bobby Majuk, who starts on the front Dorito side.
"That's my No. 1 line going into this event," Hoglund said. "They're my most aggressive players with the ability to really blow a game wide open."
On Friday's opening day, the Flames will play three games, with the schedule set to be released Thursday, in a round-robin format to determine who advances.
"They'll take the top 12 teams, then starting Saturday, it's win or go home at that point," Hoglund said. "If we win, at the most will play two games on Saturday and two more on Sunday, capped by the Championship match."
One of Liberty's three games will be webcast live on Friday, with all of Saturday's and Sunday's matches aired as well.
The Flames had a Class AA team place third at nationals in 2008, the year before Hoglund took over the coaching reins and started a Class A program.
"Our Red and Blue teams should finish fairly high up there," Hoglund said of the Class AA units. "One should be in the top 10, at least. Our white team is made up of newer players, but I'm still expecting them to get out of preliminaries."
That team features the first female player to represent Liberty at nationals, junior Jaclyn Bixby, who had never played paintball before this semester.
"We've gotten her ready," Hoglund said. "She has a lot of potential."
Sophomore Kayne Boyer is another newcomer who has progressed quickly on the white line.
The Red team is led by junior Dan Chiaverini and freshman David Dickerson, who both play on the Dorito side.
"They're a good combination that play really well together," Hoglund said.
On the blue team, freshman Micah McLeod is developing into a very good snake player.