Men's lacrosse travels to Tennessee for spring season debut
February 7, 2020 | Knoxville, Tenn.
When Liberty University's men's lacrosse team opens its 2020 MCLA season on Saturday at SouthEastern Lacrosse Conference (SELC) Northwest Region rival Tennessee, it will be the first opportunity for several newcomers to make immediate impacts on the program. As he does every year, Flames 10th-year Head Coach Kyle McQuillan faces the challenge of getting the returning veterans and underclassmen to mesh.
"That is part of coaching at any level, but especially in college, where you cycle through your guys in four years," he said. "We definitely had some guys that graduated last season that have already been missed, but because of our ability to recruit at a high level, they have been able to step into those roles and take on that responsibility. I feel this is the deepest team we've had and we have depth at every position."
That depth is most apparent in the midfield, where McQuillan expects to have as many as nine middies available at all times, with little noticeable drop-off from the starting line of seniors Carter Elliott, Derrick Esh, and C.J. Nichols, the Flames' leading scorer last spring with 46 goals and 27 assists.
"Instead of having to rely on three to four guys, we are going to have two if not three midfield lines that we'll be able to run in succession," he said. "Midfielders have to be able to play on both sides of the ball and with the pace we like to play at, they make a lot of runs. Spreading that workload out does a lot for us from a physical standpoint and we're going to be able to do something similar on offense as well."
Senior Caleb Britton is a fourth-year starting attack primed for another prolific season after totaling 129 goals and 39 assists since taking the No. 92 from all-time leading scorer Ryan Miller ('15, 201G, 136A). Britton will be complemented by senior cousin Eli Britton, junior attack Thomas Pinel, brother of former Division I men's hockey goalie Matt Pinel, and freshman Jackson Miller, Ryan Miller's younger brother. Freshmen Nathan Spears and Mark Rolewicz provide additional scoring punch.
|Flames Head Coach Kyle McQuillan looks forward to seeing incoming recruits fill voids left by graduates.|
"Every year, you've got to play to your strengths and reevaluate the strengths that you have," McQuillan said. "We are not going to stray too far from what has made this program successful. The past nine seasons, we have been able to transition and score points quickly on offense and this team is no different."
The Flames are most untested on defense, where they graduated their top three starters, opening spots for players like senior Reagan Pritchett and juniors Steve Prevett and Mitch Gorski. McQuillan believes having Ryan Reynolds back for his senior season in goal will embolden the defense to play aggressively.
"Anytime you've got a goalie that can make the stops he's supposed to make and saves you don't anticipate him being able to make, that gives the defense added confidence in what they're doing," he said. "From what we've seen in practice, Ryan is going to have a tremendous year."
Coming off the first undefeated regular season in program history — when they finished 14-0 before being eliminated by eventual champion South Carolina in the second rounds of both the SELC Tournament and MCLA National Championships — the Flames are ranked fifth in the MCLA Division I preseason Coaches Poll and US Lacrosse Magazine's Top 25..
The Flames will be tested early and often throughout a season that includes a Feb. 23 showdown with 2018 national champion Michigan State at the Liberty Lacrosse Fields, a Spring Break trip to Florida to face the Gators, Seminoles, and defending national champion Gamecocks on their home fields, and an April 5 showdown with Georgia Tech at a neutral site in Wingate, N.C. Liberty will then host Northwest Region rival Virginia Tech on April 17, which typically determines the top two seeds for the following week's SELC Tournament near Atlanta.
"It is definitely a challenging schedule," McQuillan said. "Every year, as we continue to get better with a stronger record and résumé, our schedule will continue to get harder, and we're not going to shy away from that."
Tennessee, which is coming off a 12-2 season-opening win over Vanderbilt, has a new head coach and could provide the Flames a stronger challenge than in recent years. Liberty won by 26-8, 19-9, and 18-4 margins the past three seasons.
"Tennessee, West Virginia, George Washington, and Virginia Tech are very important games for us to focus on because they determine our (SELC) playoff eligibility, which is the best road to the (May 4-9 MCLA) Nationals (Championships in Salt Lake City)," McQuillan said. "We are going to do the things we need to do to be successful."