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    February 20, 2023 Axton, Va. RSS |

    Liberty University’s men’s ultimate team finished 4-2 and in third place out of 16 teams at this past weekend’s Commonwealth Cup at the Smith River Sports Complex in Axton, Va., with its only two losses coming against the teams that met in the championship game.

    The Flames were seeded fifth, based on their performance at last spring’s Virginia Conference Tournament, their last official tournament as both events scheduled for the fall semester were canceled due to weather. They surpassed expectations, especially for such a young team with untested talent, beating the University of North Carolina’s B team, 13-6, and Franciscan (Ohio) University, 12-8, before falling to eventual tournament champion Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 13-6, to go 2-1 in Saturday’s pool play.

    Then, in Sunday’s first round of championship bracket play, the Flames opened a 6-1 lead on Cedarville (Ohio) University, which had gone undefeated in its pool and rallied to tie the contest at 6-6 before Liberty stung the Yellow Jackets repeatedly in the second half to pull away for a 13-7 victory. In the semifinal round, the Flames lost by a 13-8 score to eventual runner-up Elon (N.C.) University, which had upset the No. 1-seeded University of Pennsylvania in the quarterfinals.

    Liberty advanced to the third-place game and defeated Davidson (N.C.) College, 12-6, which had lost its only previous match against Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the semifinals.

    Complete results are available online.

    “We ended up being put in the hardest pool,” Flames Head Coach Kevin Habermas said. “We faced about five different types of man and zone defenses for the tournament, which is a really good experience to have those guys to see and try to figure out the best way to attack on offense and make adjustments. A few of the games we came from behind and really adjusted well at halftime. All the games we won were a lot closer in the first half than the final scores would indicate. Credit to guys that they were able to take what their coaches were telling them and make adjustments on the fly, even in only a 10-minute halftime. To verbally tell them something and go out and execute that is not an easy thing to do.”

    Liberty senior Joshua Whitaker reaches for a low pass under close coverage.

    The 12 new players on the Flames’ 20-man roster this season finally had the opportunity to showcase the significant improvement they have made in their games as they have meshed with the few returning players.

    “From those newcomers who were playing in their first tournament, there were a few who got a significant amount of playing time,” Habermas said. “It was great because we have such a new team, with the majority of team playing for a year or less. (Graduate) Joshua Duke and (senior) Shawn Messick are the only players on the team who have played on it for more than a year, which is crazy to think about when you consider how we did. The other 18 have really caught on quickly. We were able to get everybody in, and get them some experience, which was nice and what’s needed at this point. Even guys who didn’t get in as much were able to make an impact when they did.”

    One newcomer who made an immediate and lasting impact was freshman Eli Lanter, who grew up playing football through high school in North Carolina.

    “He played the most points of anybody (104), and in my opinion he was the MVP,” Habermas said. “He led the team with 11 defenses (interceptions or knockdowns), he led team in scores (20 of 64 goals), and he played in different positions and in every scenario — whether we were in zone defense and offense or man defense and offense. He matches up because he can jump so high against the taller players as a defender.”

    He also finished with the highest plus-minus of +23, a figure calculated by every score, assist, or defense recorded minus every throw-away or dropped pass.

    Senior Jackson Klingenberg ranked second in scoring with 15 goals and second in defenses with 10 as well as third in points played while Duke and 6-foot, 5-inch junior Ian Rankin played well along with seniors Jon Shirk and Matt Rogers.

    Liberty will compete in two more tournaments in Axton, March 11-12 and March 25-26, before traveling to Glover Park in Richmond to compete in the Virginia Conference Tournament from April 22-23. At that event, the Flames will have to place in the top four or five out of eight teams, including William & Mary, Virginia, Virginia Tech, JMU, VCU, Radford, and George Mason, to qualify for the Atlantic Coast Regional Championships.

    “With a little less than a month before our next tournament, we will be constantly trying to build and grow to where we’re peaking at the right time of the season so we can go into conference tournament with confidence,” Habermas said. “We are very excited and feel we are ahead of schedule in how we’re doing with such a young team. It was very encouraging to do as well as we did this weekend and being able to build upon that.”

    By Ted Allen/Staff Writer

    Flames freshman Sam Stowe stretches out to make a catch of a long throw near the Cedarville end zone.