Lady Flames claim third straight WMCH Tournament title, eye fourth national crown in a row
Liberty University’s No. 1-ranked ACHA Division I women’s hockey team “three-peated” as Women’s Midwest College Hockey (WMCH) Tournament champions on Sunday in Chesterfield, Mo., setting the stage for a possible fourth consecutive ACHA DI National Championship from March 18-20 in Maryland Heights, Mo., another suburb of St. Louis.
The Lady Flames extended their program-record winning streak to 37 games by defeating ninth-seeded host Maryville University, 6-1, in Saturday night’s semifinal round before shutting out fourth-seeded Midland University, 4-0, on Sunday afternoon.
The Saints (15-16-1) and Warriors (20-6-2) upset No. 3-seeded Lindenwood (Mo.) and No. 2-seeded Minot State in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively. Liberty faced Midland — which was riding a 13-game winning streak after beating the Beavers for the third time this semester — for the first time this season after going 3-0 against them in 2020-21, by 3-0 scores in the regular season and 2-1 in the national semifinals.
“There were a couple upsets this weekend, but in the end the two best teams in the tournament met in the final,” Lady Flames Assistant Coach Justin Forth said. “Obviously, we’ve played Midland in the past and they’re a good, tough team, a team that has no quit. It’s always a grind when we play them. They’re well coached and they obviously earned their way there. But we’ve been able to find a way to win these types of games all season.”
The Lady Flames sandwiched two power-play goals around a shorthanded score to seize a 3-0 lead on the Warriors late in the second period. Liberty outshot Midland, 39-20, and sophomore goalie Amanda Storey made 20 saves to improve to 14-0 and post her seventh shutout of the season, lowering her goals-against average below 1.00 and raising her save percentage above 95.0.
The Lady Flames struck first in the closing seconds of a first-period power play when graduate defenseman Sally Hoerr gathered the rebound of freshman defenseman Payton Carle’s shot from the high slot and tucked in the putback from right in front with 13:31 to go.
Liberty added a shorthanded score at the 14:01 mark of the second period when sophomore forward Carly Glover skated onto a loose puck at the top of the Warriors’ left circle and threaded her shot from in the left crease through the five hole, doubling the lead to 2-0.
Then, with the Lady Flames back on the power play, freshman forward Haley Battles skated the puck out of the right corner and into the crease where she lifted a wrist shot into the upper netting, extending the advantage to 3-0 with 1:31 left in the second.
Finally in the third, Liberty capped the scoring on an odd man rush with Battles leading the charge and freshman forward Isabella Hervert cleaning up the loose puck in the slot for the 4-0 final score with 6:29 remaining in regulation.
“It’s always nice (to get secondary scoring),” Forth said. “Battles had a big game offensively and we expect that from her and Glover scored another big goal on the penalty kill, so our special teams played really a really big role in the win.”
“Top to bottom, we’re just deeper and have more talent,” he added. “We’ll be ranked No. 1 going into nationals. All of these (WMCH) teams will be there, and we anticipate facing Midland again at some point.”
In Saturday night’s semifinal, the Lady Flames got goals from six different forwards
Six forwards — senior Linzy Jedrzejek, Battles, sophomore Brityn Fussy, graduates Shelby Bradford and Vanessa DeMerchant, and senior Yannick Truter — and dominated Maryville.
“I loved the way all the girls battled and made personal sacrifices this weekend,” Forth said. “Every one of the girls is buying into what we’re trying to do and contributed to this conference championship and nothing’s going to change moving forward to nationals.”
The Lady Flames had two players selected to the All-WMCH First team — graduate defenseman Dana McLeod and Truter. DeMerchant and Storey also earned honorable mention recognition while Battles and fellow freshman forward Brielle Fussy made the All-Rookie First Team and Head Coach Chris Lowes was selected Coach of the Year.
Liberty (22-0) will receive first- and second-round byes before opening play in the 10-team ACHA DI nationals in the quarterfinals on March 18 at the Centene Community Ice Arena, site of the NHL’s St. Louis Blues’ practice facility. Liberty will need to extend its ACHA-record winning streak to 40 games to capture its ACHA-record fourth consecutive and fifth overall national crown, eclipsing Lindenwood’s existing marks.
“We’ll have to come ready, start early, and win every game,” Forth said. “We’ve got a couple boxes we want to check throughout the season, and the (WMCH) conference championship was definitely one of them, but obviously the biggest one is still yet to come at nationals.”
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer; Video by Patrick Strawn/Club Sports Director of Video & Media