Palsgrove’s Points: End of season report cards

In the last few weeks, seven different Liberty teams were eliminated from their postseasons in heartbreaking fashion, including men’s and women’s hoops, men’s Division I, II and III hockey, and women’s Division I and II hockey.  

For this week’s column, I’m going to hand out end-of-season grades for each of those seven units on the normal A through F scale, with A+ being the best possible result (e.g., Flames football going 13-0 and making an NY6 Bowl) and F being a failure and the first grade below D-.  

Women’s basketball: A 

I’m not wrong very often, but this Lady Flames team proved me wrong and then some. Over the winter it seemed like it would be a down year for the Lady Flames as they adjusted to Conference USA. They were missing some key players who left over the summer, and they were in a more difficult conference, so a down year wouldn’t be out of the question or even that big of a deal. Enter freshman Asia Boone and a senior-year surge from Bella Smuda.  

Those two, along with star guard Emma Hess, led the Flames to end the season 18-16; but they went 11-5 in the conference games, which placed them as the No. 2 seed in the CUSA tournament, and fell to a storybook season from Middle Tennessee, which continued its run into the first round of the NCAA tournament.  

All around, the Flames made the most of Smuda’s and redshirt senior Jordan Bailey’s twilight season and the emergence of Boone as one of the best players in the conference, and they’ve earned their rest this offseason. 

Men’s basketball: D- 

The men’s basketball team is a different story. This team was in a similar situation to the women’s team: new conference, key players leaving, etc. But it wasn’t able to weather that storm at all. Liberty X is still aflame with debates about Head Coach Ritchie McKay and whether or not the failures of this season rest on his shoulders, and to put it simply, they do. Many of the pitfalls that the Flames fell into this season could/should have been fixed by coaching changes, either in recruiting, playing time or on-court scheme. However, one season of choppy waters doesn’t warrant tossing the ship’s captain overboard, and anyone calling for McKay to be placed on the hot seat or all-out fired needs to see a therapist. DM me for a recommendation if you need; I know a good one.  

Men’s D1 hockey: C 

Making it to the ACHA men’s D1 quarterfinals is no easy feat, especially when your program watermark is just one win away from that round. But with players like Hunter Virostek, Jason Foltz, Matt Bartel and others leaving, this might have been the best chance for this generation of Flames to win it all. Falling short in disappointing fashion yet again after an exciting and successful season places dead even with a C.  

Men’s D2 hockey: A-  

The men’s D2 loss to Lindenwood that eliminated the team from the tournament was one of the most heartbreaking losses I’ve witnessed. With the wonky pool play system, the ACHA placed the Flames, who entered the postseason ranked No. 3 in the overall rankings, in the same pool as Lindenwood, which was ranked No. 1 in the same rankings. By placing the first- and third-best teams in the same pool, the ACHA eliminated the opportunity for what may have been one of the most competitive games ever seen in the ACHA Men’s D2 Championship Game, which we saw a glimpse of in the Flames’ 4-3 overtime loss to the Lions that kicked them from contention.  

They fought hard until the very end and earned that grade on their report card.  

Men’s D3 hockey: C- 

Sadly, the men’s D3 team failed to make much progress in the AAU tournament in West Chester, Pennsylvania, in comparison to previous seasons. For the third season in a row, the Flames went 0-3 in the postseason, and according to members of the team, they “didn’t play as a team,” which is never how you want to approach nationals. The Flames did show some nice flashes of a possible something next season, but we’ll have to wait and see.  

Women’s D1 hockey: B- 

Head Coach Chris Lowes just suffered his first ever loss in the ACHA tournament with the Flames’ loss to Minot State in the semifinal round. So, per this team’s recent standards, this season wasn’t a success. But it took two overtime games, 140 saves and a miraculous overtime winner from the Beavers to take out the defending champs. Is it the end of the dynasty? Time will tell, but there are signs for those who choose to look (“Dune” reference there for my fellow Fremen). 

Women’s D2 hockey: A- 

The Lady Flames fought their way into the ACHA tournament for the first time in years, went into a very difficult pool and pulled out two wins out of their three games. It wasn’t enough to advance them to the next round, but it’s a really good sign for Head Coach Rena Leone and her staff. The question is, Can they continue these successes into next season? I think they might.

Palsgrove is the asst. sports editor for the Liberty Champion. Follow him on X

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