Men's lacrosse workouts taking on a different form this fall
September 24, 2020 | Lynchburg, Va.
Finding ways to challenge his players physically, mentally, and spiritually in a fall semester without a competitive schedule has forced Liberty University men's lacrosse Head Coach Kyle McQuillan to think outside of the box.
With the annual Fall Tournament and scrimmage against Virginia Tech in late October canceled by COVID-19, McQuillan and his staff have stretched their imaginations to build camaraderie and create intensity in the Flames' practices leading up to an Oct. 31 intrasquad game at the Liberty Lacrosse Fields.
On Tuesday, he designated four team "captains" to draft separate teams for a series of competitions that will result in one being deemed Fall Ball Champions.
"We will be testing them in three areas — strength and conditioning; athletics, which might be lacrosse or something else, and the last being mental or intellectual," McQuillan said. "We want to prioritize the opportunities for these guys to compete this fall. It will be a surprise every time they show up, to find out what the events are. They've got to be flexible and roll with it."
Thursday's first of three competition days (the other two are Oct. 8 and Oct. 22) pushed players in a group strength and conditioning drill on the field. Then, a separate competition tested their knowledge of their teammates on topics ranging from favorite fast-food restaurant and sports to watch on TV to hometowns and numbers of siblings to majors and dream jobs. The two-hour session ended with teams playing 6-on-6 matches on the adjacent beach volleyball courts.
In early September, the Flames finalized their roster, capping it at a record-high 40 players. Practices started Sept. 14 with workouts on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays in the new Club Sports Training Complex strength and conditioning room and Tuesdays and Thursdays on the Liberty Lacrosse Fields.
"With a 40-man roster, social distancing is tough, so our best bet is to keep everything out on the field, weather permitting," McQuillan said. "We are excited about how tryouts went and that we were able to supplement our team and add to our depth with four recruits, five seniors coming back to take advantage of extra season of eligibility, and six new players, mostly preferred walk-ons."
Returning fifth-year seniors include attack Caleb Britton, midfielders Carter Elliott and Noah Rude, defender Reagan Pritchett, and goalie Ryan Reynolds. Joining the recruiting class of goalie Eric Warnstrom and middies Ryan Merbach, Stephen Westlake, and Keaton Mohs, who decommitted from NCAA Division I Marquette, are junior faceoff specialist Jared Miglorie, sophomore goalie Noah Kurtz, attack Alex Hutsell, and middie Jacob Gasterland, and freshmen defenders Will Maupin and Connor Strange-Boston.
"We feel pretty good about where we're at right off the bat," McQuillan said, noting COVID-19 restrictions affected players' off-season fitness levels and technical skills over the summer. "Unless you pretty consistently have a stick in your hand, you can lose your skill sets pretty quickly. We are getting our conditioning levels back and I am pleased with the progress thus far. We have definitely seen improvement this week in comparison with last week."
Besides scheduling opponents, simply running regular on-field practice sessions has posed problems due to new policies in place to prevent the pandemic's continued spread.
"We are still in a little bit of limbo with regards to what the rest of our fall and our spring schedule is going to look like, but we have resumed some sense of normalcy," McQuillan said. "It is good to be back out there, getting the guys back in the gym and on the field. There have been a lot of precautions and hoops we have to jump through to do that, but it is well worth it."
Liberty players showcase strength and endurance in a competition, holding up a medicine ball and a teammate.
He called sending players in shifts to use locker room and weight room space, as well as having to clean equipment before and after use "First World problems."
"When one group finishes (weight-room sessions) early, another group has to stay out and work on fundamentals or play wall-ball," McQuillan said. "It takes a little extra time or more planning, but it is well worth it if it means we can be playing lacrosse."
He said assistant coaches Mike Zumpano, Jessi Glauser, and Justin Kilian have taken more responsibility and shown tremendous flexibility and creativity in designing their workouts and Ben Harris from the Club Sports athletic training staff has helped to keep the team COVID-19-free through regular screening.
To provide another venue for student-athletes and friends to assemble to watch Liberty's home football games remotely on campus, while exercising social distancing, McQuillan is working with Liberty's IT department to set up the new videoboard on the Liberty Lacrosse Fields.
He hopes to have it operational for the Oct. 10 game against Louisiana-Monroe, the day after the Flames host their annual Alumni Game on Friday, Oct. 9, at 7 p.m., to provide an alternative watch party option from those scheduled on the Commons Lawn starting this Saturday at noon for the 1 p.m. FIU game.