Scrimmages at Roanoke, against SVU will prepare Flames men’s lacrosse for Feb. 10 ALC opener
Liberty University’s men’s lacrosse team is starting its spring preseason earlier than ever with two exhibition games against NCAA Division III opponents this week — at Roanoke College on Wednesday at 5 p.m. and against Southern Virginia University on Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Liberty Lacrosse Fields — before opening MCLA play on Feb. 10 at home against ALC North Division rival Temple University.
“They’re strong programs and playing two exhibition games has benefits for both teams, to get an early test and play someone outside of your conference, so you don’t have to worry about showing your cards early in the season,” Flames Head Coach Kyle McQuillan said. “It should be a great opportunity for us to start the season with a high caliber of opponents to see what we have.”
He said the fall semester is dedicated to developing community and culture within the team, with a heavy emphasis placed on strength and conditioning.
“We are hoping all of the work we did in the fall pays off here, before switching to game mode after scrimmaging two opponents that will test us early and set us up for MCLA play,” McQuillan said.
Liberty, which debuted at No. 6 in the MCLA Preseason rankings, will also play No. 4 Virginia Tech, its closest rival over the past several seasons, earlier than ever before, with the Hokies no longer being in the same region. The Flames are in the ALC’s North division along with JMU, Pittsburgh, Temple, and West Virginia. Virginia Tech, meanwhile, is in the South along with Clemson, East Carolina, North Carolina State, and Tennessee.
“Virginia Tech’s still a huge game for us, a barometer-setting game to give us an indication of where we are at,” McQuillan said. “We are looking forward to it because we didn’t have a great showing in the fall (a 16-7 setback), so a lot of the guys are anxious to get another shot.”
That is just the tip of the iceberg for the Flames, who will also challenge the Nos. 1 (South Carolina on March 31), 2 (Georgia Tech on March 11), 3 (BYU on March 18), 5 (Clemson on April 2), and 7 (Concordia (Calif.) Irvine on April 7) teams in the nation before competing in the ALC Tournament, which will be held at Lynchburg’s City Stadium for the second straight year, from April 29-30.
“The month of February, we’ll have a bunch of home games, then in March, we’ll be doing a bunch of traveling, and then in April, we’ll be back home, so we are trying to mentally prepare these guys for that,” McQuillan said.
Over its Spring Break, Liberty will travel to play games on March 16 at No. 21 Utah Valley — a team it rallied to defeat in the third-place game at the 2021 National Championships in Texas after falling to eventual champion BYU — and the No. 3 Cougars.
Liberty has a strong corps of leadership in place to guide it to a potential fifth consecutive MCLA National Championships appearance in Round Rock, Texas, where the Flames were eliminated last season by South Carolina, the eventual champion which received 24 of 26 first-place votes in the preseason poll.
The Flames feature four captains this year — senior midfielders Cameron Carter and Remy Newton, and longstick midfielder Luke Rafferty as well as junior defender Matthew Walker, an MCLA First-Team All-American last season, along with junior middie Keaton Mohs.
“We feel really good about our midfield, where we have a lot of dynamic players,” McQuillan said. “When Keaton is on the field, and hopefully we can keep him healthy this year, he is one of if not the most dynamic midfielders in the country and in my opinion should be a repeat All-American and in the running for offensive player of the year in the conference and the MCLA. Then, we have a lot of guys flying under the radar who are in their own right just as effective — (sophomore) Will Geary, Cameron Carter. Bennett Newman and newcomer Peyton Doyle. I am excited to see how we all play together and mesh.”
Senior Cooper Branham and freshman younger brother Luke are two of the Flames’ more dangerous attackmen.
“Luke had a lot of opportunities to play elsewhere,” McQuillan said. “We will rely pretty heavily on their chemistry on attack and are hoping we have a lot of Branham connections.”
Besides being a spiritual leader on the team, freshman midfielder/attack Bennett Newman is expected to make an immediate impact on offense along with junior Braden Landry, a left-handed transfer from Colorado State.
Defensively, the Flames have built a strong fortress around their cage.
“I have been really impressed with the improvement of our defense, particularly our closed defenders,” McQuillan said. “(Senior) Ryan O’Connor moved back from midfield where he played the last three years, and watching him develop, I have been pretty impressed with how quickly he picked that up. Junior Bryn Jungles is a transfer from the University of Lynchburg, and I am excited to see his progress.
McQuillan said faceoff specialist and goalie are two positions that will be pivotal to the Flames’ success this season.
“For me, how we perform at the specialty positions — filling the shoes of Ryan Reynolds in goal with two people with limited game experience at Liberty — is an area that is going to be a real focal point,” he said. “Those are areas we need to shore up.”
Junior Eric Warnstrom and freshman Camden Harriman, younger brother of former Flames goalie Brayden, are battling it out for the starting position between the pipes.
“I will be curious to see how those guys perform (in this week’s exhibition games),” McQuillan said. “Eric has been a part of our program the last couple years, waiting in the wings, while Camden is definitely a lot younger and less experienced. You don’t really know what you have until you throw them into the fire and they start taking shots. The same is true at the faceoff position.”
Graduate Ethan Bohannan is being tested by two freshmen, Lance Bruno and Shane Supek, at the faceoff spot.
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer; Video by Patrick Strawn/Club Sports Director of Video & Media