Flames set for Friday's opener against Tigers despite snow
February 19, 2015 | Lynchburg, Va.
Liberty University's men's lacrosse team isn't going to let the first significant snowfall of 2015 postpone its SouthEastern Lacrosse Conference (SELC) season opener, Friday at 10 p.m. against Clemson on the Liberty Lacrosse Field, which will be plowed for the event.
With temperatures expected to hover just above single digits from the opening faceoff, spectators are encouraged to bundle and huddle up, drink plenty of hot chocolate, and cheer loudly for the Flames, ranked 18th in the MCLA Division I preseason poll.
"It's been difficult with the snow days and not being able to stick to our usual practice routine," Liberty fifth-year Head Coach Kyle McQuillan said. "It's going to be a test for our guys, but we can't give ourselves any excuses and weather's not an excuse to not be at our best. Both teams have to play in the same conditions. If we play the way that I know we can play, weather is not going to be a factor."
Temperatures are expected to rise to 50 degrees by Sunday's second game against No. 19 Davenport, set for 3 p.m., however there is a 100 percent chance of rain.
"It's cold, and it's going to be wet, but the guys are just excited we can finally play lacrosse," McQuillan said. "We've been talking about this for seven months. It's finally time to show what we've got. We feel we're definitely ready to be a great lacrosse team and it all starts this Friday."
Liberty expanded its team by five or six players in the offseason and now has 36 on the roster, including nine sophomores and 11 freshmen. But the Flames' coaching staff is still focused on developing top-level talent rather than simply growing numbers.
"For us, it's quality over quantity and I want to make sure we're taking the guys that are going to be effective in helping us win lacrosse games and willing to work hard," McQuillan said. "We're not going to take guys just to fill the bench."
In recent seasons, Liberty's attack and midfield have received most of the headlines, but McQuillan expects the defense to win more than its share of games this spring.
"If there's a part of our game that's going to stand out this season, it's going to be our defense," he said. "I have a lot of faith in and respect for the guys we've got in there."
"Ethan is the backbone of what we're going to do defensively this year," McQuillan said. "If we're going to have success, it's going to be because of what he's able to do back there. A lot is riding on Ethan's shoulders."
Sophomore Nate Whyte is captain of the defensive corps flanked by juniors Brandt Grauss and David Mitchell, a transfer from Long Island, N.Y., and freshman Connor Sheehey, also a defenseman on the DIII hockey team.
Still, the Flames know the best defense is a productive offense and that if they can maintain possession of the ball, they can shut their opponents out.
At midfield, junior captains Bryce Mrakovich and Brett Bernardo are complemented by sophomore Chad Moore and junior Charles Fianko, a faceoff specialist who has continued to develop his game in the offseason to become a more dangerous scoring threat.
McQuillan said the Flames are equally volatile running their fast-break and set offenses.
He is confident the Flames can continue to take quantum leaps with every new season. They won the SELC Tournament and advanced to the MCLA Division II Final Four in 2013 before beating No. 10 Virginia Tech in the regular-season finale to clinch the SELC Division I Northwest Region regular-season title last spring, their first at the DI level, when they later upset Florida State to reach the SELC Tournament final.
"We think the team we have is the best we've been able to put together since restarting the program in 2010," McQuillan said. "We're optimistic but also realize we have the most challenging schedule we've ever had. We have all the goals and aspirations. Looking at where we are now and where we need to be, it's pretty daunting. It all starts Friday against Clemson."
Liberty's end goal is to qualify for the May 11-16 MCLA Tournament in Orange County, California — preferably with an autobid by claiming the SELC Tournament crown — and then to take that title home, too.
The Flames' toughest stretch in preparation for a national run will come on a March 10-13 spring break road trip out west, where it will face No. 9 Grand Canyon, No. 14 Arizona, and No. 2 Arizona State in a span of four days.