Men’s ultimate tournament tested, ready to host this weekend’s conference championships
In order to qualify for next month’s Atlantic Coast Regional Championships at the Smith River Sports Complex in Axton, Va., Liberty University’s men’s ultimate team is targeting a top-five finish out of eight teams at this Saturday’s and Sunday’s Virginia Conference Championships at the Liberty Mountain Intramural Complex.
The Flames are seeded sixth behind top-seeded William & Mary, Virginia, JMU, Virginia Tech, and VCU and ahead of Radford and George Mason.
“We have a really strong conference and there are legitimately four or five teams that could win this,” Liberty Head Coach Kevin Habermas said. “We’ll see what happens. It’s a weird year because (USA Ultimate) decided it wouldn’t do any college rankings this year, so the seeding is a little messed up.”
Habermas likes his team’s chances of qualifying for the May 7-8 regional tournament, as the Lady Flames’ women’s team did by winning its conference tournament for the first time.
“We’re looking pretty good,” he said. “We have a really young team, so we have to work on being consistent. If we play our game, play to our capabilities, we’ll be absolutely fine.”
In 2019, the Flames earned their first regional bid as a team by finishing fourth at the conference championships, which they hosted before the 2020 tournament was canceled by COVID-19 and the 2021 event was pushed back to Fall 2021, when the Flames narrowly missed a regional bid.
Tournament pool play begins at 8 a.m. Saturday, in order to beat the 8:30 a.m. road closures for the Freedom 4/24 “Run 4 Their Lives” 5K held on campus that day. Teams will compete in their first round of bracket playoffs in their last match of the day before action resumes Sunday with the last three rounds at 9 a.m., 11 a.m. (championship final and seventh-place game), and 1 p.m. (third- and fifth-place games).
In recent tournaments in Axton, Va., the Flames placed fifth out of 10 teams at the March 26 Rodeo and 13th out of 18 teams at the April 2-3 Atlantic Coast Open.
At the Rodeo tournament, Liberty lost to Kennesaw State in pool play before eventually beating them in the fifth-place bracket final, matching its No. 5 seed. In between, the Flames defeated SUNY Binghamton and Elon, but lost to Middlebury, the reigning NCAA Division III national champion ranked No. 1 at that level, and Richmond, ranked third in NCAA DIII.
Senior primary handler Ethan Allison and sophomore cutter Jackson Klingenburg, who accounted for 19 of the team’s 51 scores in the tournament, split MVP honors, as voted on by their teammates.
In the Atlantic Coast Open played the following weekend, Liberty broke its No. 15 seed but struggled.
“That was rough,” Habermas said. “Honestly, we had flashes of brilliance and flashes of just being exhausted. In hindsight, I wish I hadn’t scheduled tournaments on back-to-back weekends, but it gave some good experience to a lot of the guys because a lot of our starters were tired.”
He said junior John Shirk was one of the recipients of that extra playing time and he made the most of it.
The Flames were in the same pool as the eventual team champion Penn State and runner-up Virginia, which they lost to by 15-8 and 15-9 scores, respectively.
“It was good to see different types of defenses,” Habermas said. “Those were both solid teams.”
Liberty also lost to No. 10-seeded Johns Hopkins, 13-12, on Universal point, despite its offensive line only committing one turnover for the contest.
“That was a really long, grueling game,” Habermas said. “We played good defense, but couldn’t score when we got the disc back. Both teams had one break each and we had plenty more break opportunities, but playing back-to-back weekends our guys were exhausted, both mentally and physically. They made some bad plays and couldn’t make up for it. It was a learning experience for me as a coach, leading up to conference championships, as I had to play guys at positions they weren’t used to playing.”
On Sunday, the Flames defeated the College of Wooster (Ohio), 14-9, before falling to Navy, which showed its advantage in conditioning. Liberty wound up 13th after winning its last game against George Mason by forfeit.
Ian Rankin, a 6-foot, 5-inch sophomore, was voted by teammates as tournament MVP.
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer