Battle of the Blue Ridge: Flames fall to Hokies in new tradition

Wind was whipping in Blacksburg as the Liberty’s men’s lacrosse team fell to their bitter rival Virginia Tech 10-9. That wind played a big factor in the scoring as 15 of 19 goals were scored on the goal with the wind at the players back. 

“Weather is something both teams had to deal with, Liberty Head Coach Kyle McQuillan said. “When we went into the net in the third quarter, we were going into the wind.”  

The game started out with Aiden Smith, captain of the Hokies, netting the first goal past Flames’ goaltender, junior Eric Warnstrom. He then quickly found nylon again to put Tech up 2-0 with 7:44 left in the first. Smith ended with one more goal and one assist on the day. 

Liberty would answer back though, with senior midfielder Keaton Mohs scoring first for the Flames. Then after over eight minutes of no scoring, Luke Branham evened the score up at two a piece. That was one of five ties or lead changes in the first half.  

“They’re number one in the country and we stood toetotoe with them,McQuillan said.

The Flames went into halftime up 4-3, but that momentum flipped quickly. In the third quarter, Virginia Tech outscored Liberty 5-1, turning the 4-3 advantage into a 9-5 Virginia Tech lead by the end of the third quarter.  

“There were a couple costly penalties that we had, McQuillan said.But to their credit, they took advantage of them.”  

However, the Flames got some wind back in their sails in the fourth quarter. With the breeze at their back, Liberty returned the game to a one-point contest two different times, once at 9-8 and then again at 10-9.  

The comeback efforts, however, were not being enough. Liberty was called for slashing with 51 seconds left in the game. That forced the Flames to play with a man down for the rest of the game. That was too much to overcome and, despite heavy pressure, the Hokies held on to the ball for the rest of the game.  

The loss knocked the Flames to 2-2 on the season, with both losses coming by one goal. However, despite a disappointing start, there have been positives that both players and coaches have taken away. Bryn Jungles, a senior defender for the Flames, pointed out some of those positive points. 

“Me, as captain, I want to be there for the guys, making sure everyone is there mentally and emotionally,” Jungles said. We put the hard games early for a reason to find out who we are. It’s all about unity and the team;, we can’t move forward without each other.” 

They will return to their home field on March 2 against University of Connecticut and March 3 against West Virginia University — four games in eight days for the Flames. That takes a toll on players bodies and minds, but McQuillan knows they aren’t backing down from the challenge.  

“We spent a ton of time in the fall and spring preparing for scenarios like this. We will definitely use these next couple of days to prepare,” McQuillan said. We have a deep team, and I am confident that our guys who have played few minutes or even no minutes can be leaned on this weekend.” 

Both games this weekend are at 1 p.m. and are located at the lacrosse fields on East Campus.  

Hill is a sports reporter for the Liberty Champion

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