Lady Flames begin fifth ACHA DI title defense Saturday with battle against Pride
Four-time defending national champion Liberty University’s ACHA Division I women’s hockey team will receive its fifth set of rings in celebration of its 2021-22 trophy during an intermission of next Friday night’s ACHA DI men’s hockey team’s game against Niagara at the LaHaye Ice Center. This Saturday, the Lady Flames will begin their quest for a fifth consecutive and sixth overall national title, and look to extend their 40-game winning streak, when they host the Washington Pride’s U-19 team at 1:30 p.m. at the LIC.
The Lady Flames, led by three forward captains — graduate Shelby Bradford, senior Yannick Truter, the reigning ACHA DI Player of the Year, and junior Brityn Fussy — will contend for their fourth consecutive Women’s Midwest College Hockey (WMCH) tournament championship, Feb. 24-26 in St. Louis, before traveling to the National Championships in Boston, where all five divisions of the ACHA will crown champions from March 16-21.
Already the strongest conference by far, with all of last season’s ACHA “Frozen Four” teams coming from it, the WMCH will be even deeper this season with the addition of Jamestown, a first-year Division I program.
“We always have a target on our back because we’re defending champions, so we always get everyone’s best games,” senior defenseman Julia McDonald said.
Besides his three captains, who anchor a deep and talented forward corps, sixth-year Head Coach Chris Lowes is leaning on defensemen such as graduate Aislyn Stretch and senior Julia McDonald and junior goalies Amanda Story and Kylie Mebs to serve as coaches on and off the ice and the bench. They will help fill voids left by graduating forwards and head captains Vanessa DeMerchant and Shannon Fehr as well as defensemen Dana McLeod and Sally Hoerr, among others.
“Our seniors and our graduating class from last year set the tone for us and how we are supposed to lead,” sophomore forward Isabella Hervert said. “The coaching staff has done a really good job of setting up the team goals and vision for the program and everyone’s on board, which is really good.”
“We’ve got such great leaders throughout the lineup,” Lowes added. “We lost some cornerstones last year, obviously, big parts of our team, but that’s part of the legacy of those girls that left and we’ve got girls that are ready to pick up that slack. Our goal is certainly to be better than we were last year, and when you look at who we lost, that’s challenging, but when I look at who we got back, I think that’s super attainable.”
He said with the additions of three freshmen — goalie Alex Keith, defenseman Emerson Oakes, and forward Brookelyn Beauchamp — Liberty hasn’t lost a step, and could be as deep and dangerous as last season.
“We’re talented. We’re a united group. It’s just now can we go out as a team and be successful,” Lowes said. “It’s fun watching your team evolve into who we’re going to become. It’s going to be hard to build on last year, but I think there’s still so much room for growth with our team and I think our players do as well, so that’s exciting and it will help fuel the fire.”
Oakes has adapted quickly to her new teammates and is looking forward to continuing to build on the Lady Flames’ dynasty over the next four seasons.
“It’s fun to play with such a good team,” she said. “We want to keep the legacy going and win another national title, and keep the win streak going.”
Offensively, the Lady Flames are one of the fastest teams in the nation and have sharpened their skating skills through Pro Stride clinics in the past two preseasons.
“We have a super-deep (forward squad), which is good, so we can really tire teams out when they only have one or two lines that can keep up with us,” McDonald said.
They are complemented by a defensive corps that is becoming more offensive-minded.
“I can be a stay-at-home defenseman and protect my net a lot, and I have improved my offensive game and can rush the puck if needed and make a good first pass out of the defensive zone,” Oakes said.
Keith could give Story and Mebs a challenge for starts between the pipes.
“She’s had a good start to the year and we’re excited to see her have that chance lead the team out of the tunnel, whenever that time comes,” Lowes said. “We’ll be confident in what she can do for us and it will be interesting to see the competition play out.”
Following the lead of Liberty’s ACHA DI men’s hockey team, the Lady Flames will travel to Finland to serve with Hockey Ministries International over Christmas Break.
“It’s going to be a lot of travel this year and a lot of experiences,” Lowes said. “That’s going to come fast.”
“It doesn’t matter where we go, but we’re always on a mission trip,” Hervert added. “Spiritually, everyone has the same goal in life and it’s to obviously honor Jesus with what He’s given us. It’s an amazing thing that we get to come out here and do that and having the same goal helps everyone come together as a team.”
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer; Video edited by Micah Adams/Club Sports Video & Media Assistant