Ultimate teams play spring's first matches in New Jersey
March 29, 2014 | Princeton, N.J.
Snowy conditions prevented Liberty University's men's and women's Ultimate Frisbee teams from competing in any organized events over the winter months. This past weekend, heavy spring rains shortened the Garden State Tournament in Princeton, N.J. — which featured a 50-team men's field and 30-team women's field — to one-day, round-robin showcases with no championship playoffs.
Including two forfeits, the Flames' men went 4-1 on Saturday to finish second in their five-team pool. Liberty would have played for ninth place out of 50 teams on Sunday, but all of the fields at four locations, including one in nearby Pennsylvania, were drenched so it officially finished in an eight-way tie for ninth place.
The highlight of Saturday's action was a 9-8 triumph over James Madison University in the first sanctioned match between the two teams.
"JMU's typically one of the top three teams in our (Virginia) Conference," Liberty Head Coach Jason Jarrett said, noting the Dukes have already beaten Michigan State, Ohio State, Indiana, and Syracuse this season. "They're ranked 78th nationally (in the March 27 USA Ultimate Division I College Men's poll, compared to Liberty at No. 249 out of 355 teams). That win should move us up into the top 100."
Liberty (6-6) then defeated Franklin & Marshall College, 9-5, before losing an early lead in a 10-5 loss to LeHigh University, ranked No. 2 in Division III.
The Flames' most productive players on Saturday were junior Hadyn Bibby, their top handler, and senior Travis Felker, their top receiver and one of their fastest players. Both were equally effective on offense and defense.
Junior Teddy Seago and senior Brendan Kinne also did a good job of distributing and receiving, respectively, while newcomer Sam Craig, the tallest player on the team at 6 feet, 6 inches, stood out on both sides of the field.
"His nickname is ‘Tree,' and he had some really big defenses and scores," Jarrett said.
Liberty currently features a 19-man roster, its largest in four seasons of existence. That should give it an advantage going into the April 12-13 Conference Championships, which it will host for the second year in a row on its new turf-covered intramural fields.
"Last year, most of our starters were injured and we went into the Conference Championships with a lot of guys hurt or out," Jarrett said. "This year, we have everybody healthy except (junior) Ben Wagenknecht, one of our top handlers."
After being seeded no higher than seventh out of nine teams in the past three Conference tournaments, Liberty could secure one of the top four seeds this time, behind No. 1 Virginia, No. 2 Virginia Tech, and No. 3 JMU, just ahead of George Mason and William & Mary. Radford, Old Dominion, and Virginia Commonwealth University are also in the conference. The top four or five finishers will qualify for regional play, as Liberty did in its second season, with the top two teams out of the region advancing to nationals.
To prepare for the Conference Championships, the Flames will host YAKs, a local club team made up mostly of college graduates from Virginia Tech, Radford, and Liberty, including Lady Flames Assistant Coach Jonathan Mast, in a scrimmage this Saturday. Meanwhile, Liberty's women's team will scrimmage a combination of Lynchburg and Roanoke female players on an adjacent field.
The Lady Flames (5-7) only got to play two games on Saturday at the Garden State Tournament, defeating Dickinson (Pa.) College, 9-6, before losing to Georgetown University, one of the top teams in the region, 9-5.
Currently ranked 137th out of 205 Division I women's programs, Liberty has improved significantly, according to Jarrett. Three of the Lady Flames' best players are seniors — Krista Johnson and captains Sydney Comer and Kaitlyn Kane.
Last season, the Lady Flames only had six healthy players by the end of the season and had to pull out of the Conference Championships. This year, they have bolstered the roster to 14 players heading into the April 12-13 Conference tournament hosted by JMU, which will feature the same teams as the men's event except ODU and Radford.
"They should have a good chance of going to regionals as well," Jarrett said, noting the top four teams out of seven will qualify and Liberty should be seeded fourth behind Virginia, Virginia Tech, and JMU.