Flames among favorites for SELC DI Tournament in Atlanta
April 23, 2014 | Lynchburg, Va.
As far as Head Coach Kyle McQuillan is concerned, the only way for Liberty University's men's lacrosse team to qualify for the May 12-17 Men's Collegiate Lacrosse Association (MCLA) Division I National Championships in Orange County, Calif., is by winning this weekend's Southeastern Lacrosse Conference (SELC) DI Tournament near Atlanta.
The MCLA's 10 conference champions receive automatic berths to nationals and the SELC, which has four teams ranked in the top 25 but none in the top 15, is unlikely to receive any of the six at-large bids.
"Every game we face could be our last," McQuillan said. "For us, there's definitely some finality to our season, which will hopefully motivate these guys to finish well. We play Vanderbilt on Friday. If we win, we go on; if we lose, we go home."
|Sophomore midfielder Bryce Mrakovich maneuvers around Virginia Tech defenders with the ball in his netting during Friday's 10-8 win at the Liberty Lacrosse Fields.|
Liberty (12-3, 5-0 SELC DI, Northwest Region) clinched the top seed out of its region by beating Virginia Tech 10-8 on Friday night at the Liberty Lacrosse Fields. That also bumped the Flames up two positions to No. 22 in the MCLA DI poll, one spot ahead of the Hokies, who dropped two places.
"For us to be recognized in the top 25 is a good first step, but at this point, it's just a number," McQuillan said. "It doesn't mean anything. All we're focused on is winning the SELC Tournament championship because that's only thing I know that will get us to the National Championships."
Liberty will leave Thursday morning and practice Friday morning before facing Vanderbilt (5-4, 3-2 Southwest Region) in Friday's first round at 8 p.m., at Alpharetta High School.
"We don't want to take any team for granted," McQuillan said. "We definitely want to come out and take control and set the pace in that game."
The winner advances to challenge the winner between Florida State University (11-0, 4-0 Southeast Region) and North Carolina State University (7-4, 3-1 Northeast Region) in Saturday's at 7:30 p.m., semifinal at Johns Creek High School. FSU is the only SELC team to defeat the Flames this season, in the first game of their spring break road trip through Florida.
Liberty won its first-ever SELC DII tournament crown last season on the same two fields north of Atlanta. It is hoping to continue its successful transition in its first season at the DI level.
"We've experienced the venue, so that's not going to be new," McQuillan said. "I'm hoping the guys who were a part of the team last year are going to be able to adapt and know what's at stake."
Winning an SELC DI tournament title the year after capturing its first SELC DII crown and reaching the MCLA DII Final Four would be a monumental accomplishment for the Flames. McQuillan considers Liberty one of the favorites, ranked only behind No. 16 FSU and No. 20 Georgia Tech, which has a home-field advantage being from Atlanta.
"If we play our style of lacrosse, our system, our game, I don't feel there's a team that's going to be able to compete with that. If we do all of those things, we have a very strong chance of winning the championship," McQuillan said.
Liberty has weathered a rigorous schedule that included a trip to No. 9 Michigan State and No. 19 Davenport, which dealt the Flames their only other setbacks.
"We know what we did in order to put ourselves in this position, how many games we've played and how many times we've been tested," McQuillan said. "The only SELC team we haven't played that's ranked is Georgia Tech and we may see them, hopefully, in the championship game. We know what to expect and feel we've tested ourselves against a variety of opponents, not only in the SELC but also the MCLA, so we're very prepared."
After taking road trips to Florida and Michigan, a journey out west would be a definite incentive.
"Depending on what motivates these kids, they're basically playing for a free ticket to California if they want it," McQuillan said. "We're playing for our playoff lives and a national championship berth."