Men's lacrosse heads into season with top-20 ranking
January 8, 2013 | Lynchburg, Va.
Liberty University's men's lacrosse team is ranked in the Men's Collegiate Lacrosse Association's Division II top 20 for the first time in program history, debuting at No. 20 in the recently-released preseason poll.
The Flames ended the 2012 season at No. 25 in the final Nike/Inside Lacrosse Coaches' Poll after losing to eventual champion Elon in the Southeast Lacrosse Conference tournament semifinals.
"We've been picked as the No. 1 underdog in the MCLA," said third-year head coach Kyle McQuillan, who played for Liberty from 2003 through 2005 and revived the program in 2010. "Obviously, every year we're trying to add to what we've accomplished in seasons past."
In their final season of Division II play (Liberty will ascend the ranks and compete in MCLA Division I next year), the Flames want to go out in a blaze of glory.
"Liberty University has done an excellent job of supporting us and we are starting to make some waves," McQuillan said. "My guys' expectation is to win nationals. They want that title to take with them as we move up to Division I."
The Flames feature a strong core of returning starters, including five SELC all-conference players and one honorable mention all-American, and an influx of talented newcomers.
"We've added eight freshmen to the roster, four or five of which should be able to contribute from Game One," McQuillan said.
That includes Bryce Mrakovich, who should make an immediate impact at midfield.
McQuillan believes sophomore goalie Ethan Kamholtz, a transfer from Penn Yan (N.Y.), "will prove to be the single greatest addition to our team this year."
Kamholtz, who has two years of eligibility remaining, is expected to challenge Asa Keimig, a senior from Baltimore, Md., for the starting job.
The Flames' attack is sparked by Kurt Tobias, who scored 37 goals and led the SELC with a total of 56 points last year, when he earned all-conference honors.
"I expect him to do the same again this year," McQuillan said.
On defense, Nathan Lowmaster is the top returning starter and another all-conference selection.
"Nathan is one of the better defenders in all of the MCLA," McQuillan said.
He said Derek Haywood, who has improved in each of the past two seasons, could emerge as a leader at midfield, an area the Flames will need the most support.
They will begin two-a-day practices Jan. 14 in preparation for their Feb. 16 season opener against The Citadel at the new East Campus Sports Complex.
Throughout the spring season, the Flames will face five opponents ranked in the MCLA's Div. II top 25 (No. 9 Savannah College of Art & Design on March 2; No. 23 Coastal Carolina on March 3; No. 2 Grand Valley State on March 14; No. 16 Indiana Tech on March 15; and No. 12 Elon on April 12). They also will challenge two Div. I foes — at George Washington (Feb. 24) and Richmond (April 5), which Liberty will replace in Division I of the SELC next year when the Spiders move up to NCAA Division I.
"We've added four teams and will play one of the more challenging schedules in the country," McQuillan said. "Richmond is probably, by far, the most difficult team we'll be playing."
McQuillan was surprised to see the Flames bump up from No. 25 in last year's final rankings to No. 20 in the preseason poll, but said it was a result of recruiting efforts and their fall season victories over Lynchburg College (13-1) and Southern Virginia (18-4).
Since then, McQuillan has added two more transfer students — Sam Thompson from Wingate University and Joe Gargiulo, who played attack at the University of Delaware and at LC and enters his final season of eligibility.