Flames focused on starting new season at MCLA DI national tournament in Texas
Even after being ousted by No. 7 Clemson in Saturday’s ALC Division I Tournament semifinals, Liberty University’s men’s lacrosse team is entering next week’s MCLA DI National Championships seeded sixth, higher than on its three previous trips.
The Flames (10-4) are reeling from three consecutive losses, the first two against then top-ranked BYU and new No. 1 Virginia Tech, the ALC DI Tournament champion. But they have perhaps their best shot of advancing to the Final Four for the first time at the DI level, after previously reaching that stage at the DII tournament in 2013.
Liberty (10-4) opens the May 9-14 tournament in Round Rock, Texas, on Monday at 2:45 p.m. (EST) against No. 11 Grand Canyon (7-6).
“We are excited about that,” Flames Head Coach Kyle McQuillan said. “We didn’t really finish out our conference play the way we wanted, but we will focus on the fact that the sixth seed is the highest we’ve entered the national tournament at as we look forward to this final week of practice.”
“We have to put the rest of the season behind us,” he added. “It will be a chance at some redemption, to prove who we think we are. There will be really stiff competition and it is not going to be easy, but our guys are excited about it and looking forward to the opportunity.”
After a dozen Flames players participate in this weekend’s 49th Commencement exercises, the team will fly out of Lynchburg early Sunday morning in time to practice at the Round Rock Multipurpose Complex that night.
The first-round showdown between Christian universities is one of a few potential matchups with faith-based programs as Concordia-Irvine (Calif.), Texas Christian, and BYU are also in Liberty’s half of the 16-team bracket.
The Flames have faced the Lopes once before, losing 14-9 on a 2015 spring break trip to Phoenix, where they also lost to Arizona in Tucson and Arizona State in Tempe.
“They are pretty similar to us in a lot of different ways, looking at the film,” McQuillan said of Grand Canyon. “They are a former national championship team and have been pretty consistent throughout the years. I think it will be a pretty good game and we will have our hands full with them in the first round.”
Other first-round matchups pit No. 1 Virginia Tech (14-1) against No. 16 Boise State (8-6); No. 2 BYU (15-2) against No. 15 TCU (12-6); No. 3 South Carolina (13-3) against No. 14 Arizona (9-5); No. 4 Minnesota (17-0) against No. 13 Florida (13-2); No. 5 Clemson (13-4) against No. 12 Cal Poly (8-7); No. 7 Southern California (12-4) against No. 10 Boston College (9-5); and No. 8 Georgia Tech (13-3) against No. 9 Concordia-Irvine (13-2).
“Kind of the fun part of going to nationals is that you get to face teams you are not accustomed to playing,” McQuillan said. “We are not going to be flipping the script or changing things dramatically. We will stick with what we know and keep doing the things we’ve been doing. We have had a successful season, and have been in some very close games and we are confident we are going to turn the tide on those games. We’re right where we need to be, and we want to continue to reinforce what we’ve been working on in practices — eliminating and reducing mistakes and focusing on the positives.”
If the Flames can cross over the Grand Canyon, they would meet the winner between the Gamecocks and Wildcats on Tuesday at either 4 p.m. or 6:45 p.m. (EST).
“We have practiced for playing back-to-back games, so I think we are prepared for the format,” McQuillan said.
South Carolina, the reigning MCLA DI national champion from 2019 after the 2020 tournament was canceled by COVID-19 and last spring’s event was reduced to an eight-team MCLA National Invitational, defeated Georgia Tech, 17-15, in the SELC DI Championships.
“It is definitely going to feel more like a traditional national tournament after last year, when they were not allowing fans in, which affected the experience,” McQuillan said.
Thursday’s semifinals are set for 11 a.m. and 1:45 p.m. (EST) before Saturday’s 11:30 a.m. (EST) championship game. All 30 games will be streamed live through an online pay-per-view site.
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer