Flames embrace underdog role at first MCLA DI nationals
May 7, 2018 | Salt Lake City, Utah
Liberty University's men's lacrosse team faces a challenge as daunting as the mountains it flew over en route to its first appearance in this week's MCLA Division I National Championships in Salt Lake City.
"It's going to be a new experience," Flames Head Coach Kyle McQuillan said. "We know it's going to be tough, we know it's going to be hot, we know it's going to be high altitude, but every team's got to adjust to that."
McQuillan concedes that the Flames (8-5, seeded ninth) are underdogs in the 16-team tournament, even as they open play Monday at 7:15 p.m. (MST) against No. 8-seeded Concordia (Calif.) University (12-2). The defending MCLA Division II national champion Eagles' only two losses came against top-seeded Chapman (Calif.) University, the 2016 national champion and 2017 runner-up.
"We've got a lot of respect for Concordia," McQuillan said. "They play a different type of lacrosse out West, but they're still a very productive and very efficient on the offensive side of the ball. They do a lot of things really, really well and don't make a lot of mistakes. We are trying to identify the things we feel will give us an advantage. We don't expect a blowout in either direction, so we're just hoping to keep it close and capitalize on as many opportunities as we can."
Liberty and Condordia are two of only three teams in the field making their first trip to nationals, along with fifth-seeded South Carolina (16-1), which eliminated the Flames in the SELC Tournament semifinals.
Still, Liberty is fearless and full of faith as it charts new territory for a program that moved up to the MCLA Division I level after reaching the Division II Final Four in 2013.
"We are looking forward to it and are definitely ready for it," Flames junior defender Win McKeever said. "We know from the success we have had this year that we can beat great caliber teams. We haven't reached our potential yet and we just have to work hard and bring our best game."
The Flames' offense is fueled by junior attack Sam Gregory (31 goals, 28 assists), who ranks 17th in the nation in points per game, sophomore attack Caleb Britton (34G, 11A), and sophomore midfielders Carter Elliott (30G, 12A) and Derrick Esh (26G, 9A). Liberty features two solid goalies (sophomore Ryan Reynolds and junior Brayden Harriman) and faceoff specialists (sophomore Austin Aguilar and junior Jimmy Fowler) and an extremely deep defense that includes five freshmen.
The Flames are one of four teams from the SELC at the Division I national tournament, more than any other conference in the country.
Teams from out West are generally stronger since there are no NCAA Division I men's lacrosse teams west of Denver, though second-seeded Utah (15-0), playing this week in its backyard, will transition to the NCAA DI level next season.
|Sophomore attack Derrick Esh complements a potent front line as the Flames' fourth-leading scorer.|
"We just need to run our offense, drop in on defense, make the right slides, win faceoffs, and keep the possession, and hopefully the scoreboard will take care of itself," Esh said.
Win or lose, the Flames will play again on Tuesday, with a consolation game afforded to those who fall in the first round before the Final Four is set for Thursday and the championship game on Saturday. The complete schedule is available online.
All games in the MCLA DI and DII tournaments, played at the Salt Lake City Regional Athletic Complex, will be webcast live on the MCLA.us site with play-by-play and analysis provided by Prodigy Media.