When the final American Collegiate Hockey Association Division I women’s rankings were released Monday night, Liberty University was the near-unanimous choice to stay at No. 1 for the third consecutive poll.
The Lady Flames (25-2) received all but one first-place vote and will enter the ACHA DI tournament, set for March 6-10 at The Ice House in Ashburn, Va., as the No. 1 seed for the first time.
Competing at nationals for the fifth time in the past seven seasons, they will face No. 8 Michigan (18-5-4) in the first round. Liberty defeated the Wolverines 2-1 in their last meeting, Nov. 20, 2011.
“They’ve never beat us yet, but they’re building their program,” Lady Flames head coach Paul Bloomfield said. “They’re going to be ready for us. They’re not going to bring anything to us that we haven’t seen. We just need to be on our game.”
Besides top-ranked Liberty and Michigan, which remained at No. 8, there was plenty of shakeup in the rest of the final rankings. Michigan State (17-9-4) moved up five spots to No. 7, Rhode Island (19-5) dropped three positions to settle at No. 6, defending national champion Northeastern (11-5-2) bumped up a spot to No. 5, Robert Morris Illinois (25-6-3) slipped two rungs to No. 4, Minnesota (12-2-1) took one step forward to No. 3 and Massachusetts (16-4-2) rose three spots to No. 2.
“Everybody there in the last couple of weeks was beating each other, so we knew we probably would end up ranked first,” Bloomfield said. “We didn’t know who would come in at the bottom of the pile.”
Michigan and Rhode Island are the only two teams in the tournament field the Lady Flames haven’t faced this season.
The Lady Flames will be grouped with Minnesota, Rhode Island, and Michigan in Pool A and could play two games on March 7. UMass, Robert Morris, Northeastern, and Michigan State will be in Pool B.
Liberty defeated two NCAA Division III teams this season, Stevenson University (Md.) on Nov. 3 and Chatham University (Pa.) twice, this past Saturday and Sunday.
|Liberty freshman defenseman Kyle Miller battles for possession against Oakland, last year's ACHA DI national runner-up, Feb. 9 at the LaHaye Ice Center. The Flames are preparing for the March 1-6 national event in Chicago, where they are seeded 13th and will take on 20th-seeded John Carroll.|
Liberty’s men’s hockey program also is gaining national attention as the DI team heads to the ACHA DI national tournament at The Edge Arena in Chicago on March 1. As the No. 13 seed, the Flames (23-13-2) will face No. 20 John Carroll University (28-3-1) in the opening round.
Last year, the sixth-ranked Flames were eliminated by Adrian, this year’s No. 1 seed, in the second round.
With a victory over Carroll, Liberty would advance to face Ohio (24-7-3) — a team it split two games with at LaHaye last semester when the Bobcats were the No. 1 team — in the second round on March 2.
This weekend, the Flames’ DII men’s team travels to the Skate Zone in Pennsauken, N.J., site of the Southeast Regionals. Liberty (20-8-1) is seeded fourth and will face ninth-seeded Rowan, a team they beat 8-1 two weekends ago, in Saturday’s first round. The winner of that game will face the winner between third-seeded UMBC and eighth-seeded Maryland on Sunday for a chance to qualify for the ACHA DII nationals, March 15-19 in St. Louis.
Meanwhile, Liberty’s DIII men’s team will host the Blue Ridge Hockey Conference tournament this Thursday through Sunday at the LaHaye Ice Center, seeking to defend its title from last year, when it defeated Radford, William & Mary, and UNC Charlotte.
The Flames (16-3-1), seeded second behind regular-season champion JMU, will take on third-seeded Radford in Thursday’s first round at 7:30 p.m. With a win, they would play the Dukes in Saturday’s semifinal at 4 p.m., with the championship set for 3 p.m. Sunday.