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    February 4, 2023 Lynchburg, Va. RSS |

    Two exhibition games against NCAA Division III opponents in less than four days should prepare Liberty University’s men’s lacrosse team well for next weekend, when the Flames open their 2023 regular season by hosting ALC North rival Temple University on Friday at 7 p.m. and former SELC foe North Carolina State on Sunday at noon.

    “That was kind of the plan to give us experience with a quick turnaround, because we’ve got to go back and do it again,” Liberty Head Coach Kyle McQuillan said.

    He said the level of competition Roanoke College provided the Flames on Wednesday night in Salem, Va., and Southern Virginia University gave them on Saturday afternoon at the Liberty Lacrosse Fields was just what they needed.

    “With NCAA programs we’ve had the opportunity to play in the past, and this week, what all of them provide us are really well-coached, disciplined, fundamentally sound programs that allow us to test ourselves,” McQuillan said. “To play them at the beginning of the year, with a little less pressure, it allows you to let your guard down a little bit and try some different things. As long as we focus on ourselves and focus on improving each game out, we’re going to be a very dangerous team by the time the postseason rolls around.”

    Freshman attack Luke Branham complemented his older brother Cooper Branham well against the Knights.

    Wednesday’s scrimmage against the Maroons featured five quarters with the score reset after each one.

    “It was a unique format, and it definitely had a competitive scrimmage aspect to it, and felt like a practice at times as well,” McQuillan said. “Roanoke’s got a great team, a very solid program, and it was a good opportunity to challenge ourselves against a quality opponent and learn some things about our team. Facing SVU today at home allowed us to turn around and fix some mistakes we made against Roanoke and apply them right away.”

    He said the weather with high temperatures in the 30s was a bit chilly, but not unbearable.

    “It definitely was cold, but we had the sun and didn’t have much wind, so it definitely wasn’t inhibiting,” McQuillan said.

    The Flames overcame a slow start to prevail in the second half, though no official score was announced.

    “They jumped on us early to take a three-goal lead, and we did not start the way we wanted to,” McQuillan said of the Knights. “Early on, we just weren’t playing our brand of lacrosse. We made some pretty poor mistakes at the faceoff dot with violations, giving them the ball too many times, and taking some penalties that put us in man-down situations. In the second half, I told them not worry too much about the opponent, but to play our game and we were able to build a pretty comfortable lead by the third and fourth quarter.”

    Graduate Ethan Bohannan took the majority of the faceoffs after freshman Lance Bruno was sidelined by a possible concussion.

    “Bo got most of the reps and did a lot of the heavy lifting,” McQuillan said. “When he wasn’t jumping early and getting ahead of the whistle for faceoff violations, he did a pretty good job.”

    Offensively, junior midfielder Keaton Mohs was the Flames’ leading scorer and the brother attack duo of senior Cooper Branham and freshman Luke Branham continued to build chemistry.

    “Today was more about working our systems, but Keaton continued to be a player that is going to be really impactful this season and I’ve been really impressed with Cooper and Luke on attack,” McQuillan said. “I knew what Cooper was going to bring to the table, but have been really surprised with how quickly and effectively Luke has been able to just jump in. There is a natural connection playing with his brother, and I am really happy with both of them.”

    Cooper Branham helped to spark the attack and ignite the second-half resurgence.

    McQuillan said freshman middie Bennett Newman developed confidence by netting a couple goals while Calvin Hurt, a junior transfer from cross-town NCAA DIII Randolph College, and freshman Tanner Wallen scored their first goals on attack as Flames. He credited senior Remy Newton and freshman Shane Supek, who both sparked the Flames in ground ball pickups in the second half, for anchoring a solid effort by the defense as a whole.

    In goal, junior Eric Warnstrom held his own and made significant strides in securing the starting spot.

    “Ric played really well in net, especially in the second half,” McQuillan said. “He took some big and positive steps forward in taking over that role and earning a lot of the guys’ trust.”

    He expects a formidable challenge from the Owls in the Flames’ ALC opener on Friday night.

    “We played Temple last year in Philadelphia, and they impressed us for their first year in the conference,” McQuillan said. “They have talented kids who are local to that area, tough blue-collar kids that are solid lacrosse players. Any time you play a game this early in the season, there are a lot of unknowns, and we are definitely not going to underestimate them, especially playing an ALC regional opponent right out of the gate.”

    By Ted Allen/Staff Writer

    Junior Ethan Bohannan showed flashes of effectiveness at the faceoff position.