ACHA Championship Caps off Near-perfect Season for Women’s Hockey
The Lady Flames hockey team (25-1) completed their near-perfect 2017-2018 season by securing the American Collegiate Hockey Association national championship title, despite facing several new challenges.
The ACHA championship victory was Liberty’s second national title for the women’s hockey program. Their first title was won in 2015 when the Lady Flames defeated the Miami University Redhawks.
“It is exciting. It is something a lot of players never get the opportunity to do. It is monumental because it is the second national title for our program,” Chris Lowes, women’s hockey head coach, said.
Liberty’s victory came a year after the team fell in a heartbreaking defeat to the Redhawks in the 2017 championship game.
The Lady Flames dominated their opponents throughout the season, including teams such as Michigan State University, University of Minnesota and Adrian College.
Liberty began the season with a streak of 19 wins, both in home games and away games. Their streak was only broken by Michigan State, who the Lady Flames routed in the next game of the series.
“We were 17-0 and we lost a game, so that really brought down our confidence, but then we fought back and we never lost a game,” sophomore forward Alex Smibert said.
The Lady Flames were undefeated from that point on, going on to finish their season 25-1 in ACHA play.
The season culminated in the ACHA finals when Liberty faced off against the Adrian Bulldogs and won 2-1.
“When we won it was a great feeling. It is just like a flash in a moment of time when you realize all your hard work has finally paid off,” junior forward Lauren McDonald said.
Their season was not without challenges, however. The Lady Flames faced a difficult obstacle getting used to new coaching staff, as well as a travel-heavy schedule.
The 2017-2018 season was Lowes’ first as head coach of the team and Leah Carlson’s first as assistant coach. Though the Lady Flames handled the changes incredibly well, the transition was not always easy.
“We had new coaching staff this year, so we had to adjust everything, and we had to buy into their systems and really trust them,” Smibert said. “We did that, and I think that is the reason why we did what we did in nationals.”
Lowes said the change was not immediate, but the team quickly learned.
“There was a lot of change this year. We implemented a lot of new things and we did a lot different than we did in the past. It was a learning process that a lot of teams do not have to go through. We had 24 players that had to buy in and trust the process,” Lowes said.
The players also faced personal obstacles, including Smibert, who dealt with an injury early on and was unable to play for the beginning of the season.
“I missed a bunch of games and it was really hard working back to where I was before the injury,” Smibert said.
Despite their challenges, the Lady Flames overcame and are looking forward to the 2018-2019 season. Liberty is putting together a strong schedule for the season and an even stronger team with only one player graduating and several freshmen joining.
Lowes is very excited to see the team grow.
“We are going to have a big target on our back, and as a team we need to develop the culture we want. We are excited,” Lowes said. “We know we have a lot of talent, so I think there are no limits to what we can do. I think we will be challenged, and it is an exciting time for our program.”
McDonald intends to continue to lead within the team as she enters her senior season and plans to be an example to younger players.
“Next season I think we want to do the exact same thing as this year. There are going to be a bunch of new girls next season and we are going to have to show them what our program is and that we are a team that represents Christ and also a winning national team. If I put my 100 percent out, then other people will too,” McDonald said.