Improved depth has Flames ultimate focused on Atlantic Regional tournament bid
Liberty University’s men’s ultimate team features an even mix of 12 returning players and 12 newcomers, which has created a balanced dynamic for Head Coach Kevin Habermas to work with in the 2022-23 season.
“It’s been interesting and fun to kind of build off of last year but also to get the new guys up to speed on just really the basics of ultimate,” he said. “This team already, just a couple weeks in, is really tight, so that is really encouraging to have that team chemistry off and on the field. Along with my (assistant) coaches, we try to maximize the potential of every player and get the new players up to pace and on the same page.”
Senior captain Jackson Klingenburg said team unity has developed quickly and the Flames are blessed with excellent athletes, both among the veterans and the new players.
“I’m really excited about this year,” he said. “We have a lot of athletes this year, and you can’t coach athleticism, so I think we’re going to have a lot better chance to compete this year. We’ve been really working on our team chemistry … and we all feel really comfortable with each other right now. It’s really an exciting atmosphere to be around because everyone wants to get better, everyone wants to be here, and everyone’s happy to hang out together.”
Joshua Duke, a graduate captain who has played on the team since his freshman season, has enjoyed seeing the program continue to progress.
“Being a captain and being able to develop more spiritual motivation in terms of doing everything in the name of community centered in Christ has been a really cool change that I have been able to see,” Duke said. “There’s a lot of better relationships being built and friendships. We continue to add that hard-work mentality … developing throws, developing overall understanding of how to play good defense, how to be in good position, and just being attentively focused. Regionals are in mind and definitely possible, so I am super excited.”
Habermas said the Commonwealth of Virginia is one of the strongest conferences in the nation, but he said an Atlantic Regional bid is within grasp with a top-five finish at the Virginia Sectional Championships.
“It’s a real challenge to get to regionals, but we have a real shot at it,” he said. “Last year, we came up short in the (fifth-place) game. We had a smaller team, and our starters were just exhausted by the seventh game, so a team we should have beaten, we lost to. This year, with a bigger squad, hopefully, we can add some more depth, so we’ll be able to have better results.”
“I’m really hoping that our better depth is going to increase our chances of being ready to go and being able to take down VCU, Virginia Tech, JMU, and all of those teams and be able to make it to regionals, because I want it more than anything,” Klingenburg added.
Habermas, who enters his fifth season at the helm, has developed the fundamental skills of the newcomers and will gradually implement more sophisticated systems as he gets everyone up to speed.
“I enjoy the chess match of coaching against different teams,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun punching and counterpunching. There’s a lot that goes into it, just like with any other sport. There are a ton of different philosophies and strategies, and it takes learning why certain teams do certain things.”
He said it is a challenge at times to stay cool under the heat of battle, in emotionally charged settings such as tournament play.
“Being that we’re Liberty, with it being a self-officiated sport, people will try to take advantage of us,” Habermas said. “It takes a lot to sit back and think about your testimony, rather than being right and showing somebody up.”
He is searching for a tournament not sanctioned by USA Ultimate for the Flames to compete in this fall before beginning USAU tournament play in the spring leading up to the Virginia sectionals, a qualifier for Regionals. The Flames and Lady Flames will hold their annual alumni games from Oct. 22-23, one week after Homecoming Weekend.
“That Saturday will be a hat tournament where anyone can play, and then Sunday will be the actual alumni games,” Habermas said, anticipating a turnout of 15-20 alumni men and 15-20 women.
Video by Kylee Lilge/Club Sports Video & Media Coordinator