The Lady Flames Division I hockey team will defend their back-to-back-to-back conference championships when sports returns

The Lady Flames Division I hockey team will defend their back-to-back-to-back conference championships when sports return after COVID-19 suspended the current season. It will just be slightly later than they originally planned on.

“We certainly had a lot of success on the ice. We did a really good job at building on the season from last year where we won a title,” Head Coach Chris Lowes said. “We were trending in the right direction headed towards nationals, and I really liked where we were going as a team.”

The Lady Flames boasted a season record of 26-2, a No. 1 ranking and a conference title going into the national tournament.

Senior goalie Nadia Rupoli has been with the Lady Flames all four years of her collegiate career and has seen the team grow into the program that it is today.

“Coming to play here at Liberty my freshman year four years ago, I remember that we had set ourselves the goal of being the class to help move this team into a conference bracket,” Rupoli said. “The team’s success could not have been accomplished without the players who had come before us.”

With all the success the program has had in recent years, the team and the coaching staff have been able to make some memories traveling the country and competing at a high level.

Although Lowes has seen two national championships since taking over as head coach in 2017, he believes that the team this year was something special.

“I think the thing that sets this team apart was the mindset. We had a winning mindset as a team,” Lowes said. “We had an expectation for success. … I think you could see that throughout the year as we laid the groundwork for this idea that we can’t be beaten.”

The team finished the year with three players in the top 20 of the division for points and two goalies in the top three for goals allowed average. The Lady Flames finished with the third-highest goals scored (with 141), the lowest number of goals against (with 26) and the highest win percentage (.929).

“I think what stood out most to me about this team was how hard we trained and practiced each day,” Rupoli said. “Hockey is a team sport, coming together to achieve the common goal of nationals and knowing that each player is dedicated to that same goal was a fantastic thing to see.”

With that momentum, Lowes was not ready to deliver the news that the season was cut short. The team was fresh off winning the conference championship, a conference which included the top three teams in the country and six of the top 10 programs.

“We were gearing up, just getting ready to peak. It was unprecedented — there was no easy way to do it (deliver the news to the team) … I don’t think I was really ready to face what all of that meant,” Lowes said.

The news meant an early end to every team’s season, but to the seniors it meant an end to their collegiate careers. This came as a shock to Rupoli who believed the Lady Flames could have won the national title.

“Receiving the news that our season was cut … was devastating to me,” Rupoli said. “Having played my last game of hockey and not knowing that it was my last is something that I still think about.”

“Our goal for next year is to take what we built this year and use that to be better in every area,” Lowes said. “As a coach it is our job to come up with a vision and a plan to recognize that vision and that is trying to get better academically, better on the ice and finding ways to grow spiritually.”

Rupoli leaves Liberty with many positive memories of being a part of the Lady Flames and is looking forward to the future of the program, having seen how much it has grown since she was a freshman.

“If someone had told me four years ago when I was an incoming freshman that our team would be as successful as it has been, I would have been skeptical,” Rupoli said. “I am excited to see what the team is able to achieve next season — we’ve got lots of time to train and prepare.”

Jared Dean is a Sports reporter

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