Big South Tournament Preview
While the spring 2015 semester is coming to an end, five Liberty University NCAA Division I sports teams are gearing up for their individual runs at Big South Conference (BSC) Championships and two teams have just finished their season.
Women’s Lacrosse (7-10, 5-2 BSC)
The Lady Flames Lacrosse Team is having a turn-around season. After finishing 2-16 overall and 1-6 in the BSC in 2014, the Lady Flames have rebounded, losing just two conference games all season and earning the No. 2 seed for the conference tournament. Liberty currently sits at second in the division behind Winthrop, who was the Flames only conference loss to date.
Led by freshman attack Katy Pridemore (team-leading 41 goals) and redshirt senior attack Morgan Becker (team-leading 23 assists), the Lady Flames are clicking offensively. As of April 21, junior goalie Juliann Elmer is leading the BSC with 11.50 saves per game. The Lady Flames begin their championship run April 28 at 4 p.m. when they host No. 7 Gardner-Webb in the quarterfinals.
Softball (27-28, 12-12 BSC)
After a subpar 11-46 (4-20 BSC) season in 2014, the Liberty softball team is having a bounce-back year.
Currently, the Lady Flames are fifth in the conference standings behind Longwood, Coastal Carolina, Winthrop and Presbyterian.
The team returned two healthy starting pitchers—redshirt junior Chandler Ball and redshirt sophomore Kenzie Friesen— who only appeared in a combined three games last season due to injury.
Richardson said the team this year is also learning to understand the team philosophy of focusing on the fundamentals and playing to the best of its ability.
“(We have) a team culture that is starting to be where we want it to be,” Richardson said.
With freshman Alexia Taylor leading the team in batting average (.343) and hits (57), the Lady Flames head to the Big South Championship May 7-10 at Buies Creek, North Carolina.
Men’s Outdoor Track and Field
Coming in as perennial Big South Champions, the Liberty men’s outdoor track and field team is looks to win its ninth straight conference title. Head Coach Brant Tolsma said the team’s biggest competition will be Coastal Carolina, who has come in behind the Flames five years in a row. The men’s team has won 19 of the 21 Big South Championships that have ever occurred.
“Everybody is aware of the history, tradition and expectations and how blessed we are,” Tolsma said, as he stressed the need for his team to focus in order to
Sophomore Ryan Davis is looking to defend his 400-meter hurdles Big South title in 2015, while redshirt junior David Souten hopes to finish on top again after taking the 2014 discus title.
Women’s Outdoor Track and Field
The Lady Flames outdoor track and field team was voted to finish second behind Coastal Carolina in the Big South preseason poll. Tolsma said the Lady Flames will have no trouble being motivated as they look to claim their first conference Championship since 2013.
Senior Jacy Christiansen hopes to take home the 5K title for the second year in a row. Junior Janae Jones looks for back-to-back first place finishes in the triple jump.
Tolsma said 2015 is the first season the Big South Championship will be held after final exams are finished, so he expects a heightened degree of focus from his teams as well as their competitors. The Lady Flames begin their quest for yet another title May 14-16 in High Point, North Carolina.
Baseball (28-16, 14-4 BSC)
The Liberty baseball team is in the midst of yet another winning season. Currently tied for first in the conference with Coastal Carolina and Radford, the Flames are poised to make another run at the conference championship during the Big South Tournament. The Flames won the Big South Tournament in 2013 and received an at-large bid to the NCAA Charlottesville Regional in 2014.
Senior first baseman Alex Close is leading the Flames once again, batting .353 with 60 hits and 34 RBIs. Sophomore Andrew Yacyk is also stepping up for the Flames, contributing a .298 batting average and 50 hits.
On the mound, senior left-hander Jared Lyons has appeared in 12 games with a 7-1 record and a 1.44 ERA.
Senior left-handed pitcher Shawn Clowers leads the Flames with nine wins and only three losses.
Liberty’s most recent victories came April 24-26 when they swept Gardner-Webb, propelling them into a tie for first place in the Big South.
The Flames will look for all facets of their game to be clicking as they begin their run at another conference championship, May 19 in Boiling Springs, North Carolina.
Women’s Tennis (19-5, 7-2 BSC)
The Liberty women’s tennis team concluded its season at the Big South Tournament April 15-21. The fourth-ranked Lady Flames beat the fifth-seeded Campbell Camels 4-0 in the quarterfinal match.
In the semifinal match, the Lady Flames were ousted 4-2 by first-seeded Charleston Southern. No. 2 seed Coastal Carolina defeated No. 3 seed Winthrop in the other semifinal match. The higher seed again won out in the final match as Charleston Southern beat Coastal 4-0. Maria Khval and Brittany Yang placed No. 1 in doubles in the Women’s Tennis flight winners.
Maria Khval was also named all-conference in singles and Brittany Yang was named to the Big South All-Academic team.
Men’s Tennis (14-10, 6-2 BSC)
The Liberty men’s tennis team also competed in the Big South tournament that ran from April 18-21. The second-ranked Flames defeated the seventh-ranked UNC Asheville Bulldogs 4-2 in their opening match. In the semifinal matches, the top two seeds in the tournament were defeated by the three and four seeds, respectively.
No. 3 seed Winthrop proved too much for the Flames, as they defeated Liberty 4-0. Winthrop went on to defeat No. 4 Campbell in the final match.
RODRIGUEZ is the news editor.