Men’s ultimate team eager to break seed at this weekend’s conference championships
After having its past two postseasons canceled and postponed by COVID-19, Liberty University’s men’s ultimate team will open its 2021-22 season by competing alongside the Lady Flames at the long-awaited Virginia Conference Championships, Saturday and Sunday at the Publix Soccer Center in Fredericksburg, Va.
Liberty enters the conference championships seeded fifth and needing to place in the top four to qualify for the Nov. 6-7 Atlantic Coast Regional in Axton, Va.
“We are hoping that we can make a lot of noise at this tournament,” said fourth-year Head Coach Kevin Habermas, who guided the Flames to their first outright Atlantic Regional tournament qualification in his first season at the helm in 2018-19 before they went on to finish 15th. “It’s been so many years since our last (USA Ultimate) tournament, but we have the potential to go further than we have in the past, as long as we can go out and execute our system. We have a really tough conference and we’ll have to beat some good teams in order to move on (to regionals). Coming in seeded fifth, we will have to break seed to move on.”
The tournament will feature two pools of four teams with the Flames challenging top-seeded William & Mary, currently ranked No. 23 in the nation, in Saturday’s opening game at 10:45 a.m. They will then face JMU before rounding out pool play against Virginia Tech’s B team.
“Where we finish in our pool will determine where we’ll be seeded for Sunday’s playoffs,” Habermas said.
The other pool includes George Mason, Virginia, VCU, and Virginia Tech’s A team.
“We’ve had a couple good practices and will have one more before Saturday, so hopefully we’ll be able to iron out any issues,” Habermas said. “I don’t think teams will outplay us; I just hope we don’t overthink things on the field.”
Of the 22 players on the Flames’ fall travel roster, four of them — team captains Daniel Mills and John Simmons and fellow cutters Noah Willson and Ben McCoy — graduated in May and were given an exemption to be able to compete in this fall’s tournament season postponed from this past spring.
“I really want us to do well for them,” Habermas said of the super seniors. “They practiced through all of this COVID and they had to be careful and track their locations and practice two to three days per week and not get any reward of competition, other than the alumni games we hosted.”
Habermas said the graduates have helped set the tone for the team in practices this fall before Liberty will have to designate new captains and find new leaders for the spring semester from a total of 35 players, including the B team.
“It’s been a great semester and a lot of fun,” he said. “Everybody’s eager to learn and comes to practice ready to go. It’s been really encouraging to see these guys growing and learning the game. This weekend will be good experience for the new guys even if they don’t get much playing time to see other teams and the level of play it takes to win.”
A few of the Flames’ promising newcomers are sophomore handler Ian Rankin, who played ultimate in high school in Pittsburgh, and freshmen handler Drew Stanford and cutter Jackson Klingenberg.
Liberty’s primary handlers this weekend will be senior Caleb Stow, junior Justin Jacobs, senior Ethan Allison, and junior Joshua Duke, along with Mills.
Defensively, Jacobs, Duke, and senior Caleb Weldy will provide leadership in the backfield.
The weekend after regionals, Liberty’s men’s and women’s teams will host their alumni games at the Liberty Mountain Intramural Complex, with a co-ed hat tournament on Nov. 13 followed by the men’s and women’s games pitting the current players against alumni teams on Nov. 14.
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer; Video edited by Kylee Ligle/Club Sports Video & Media Assistant