October 21, 2020 : By Jacob Couch - Office of Communications & Public Engagement
The Liberty Flames men’s and women’s basketball teams released their 16-game conference schedules last month and will be announcing their non-conference matchups in the coming weeks as they prepare to enter their third year of Atlantic Sun Conference (ASUN) competition — this time in the brand new Liberty Arena.
Women’s Head Coach Carey Green said he expects fans to be allowed at the team’s home games, which would provide some excitement as the Lady Flames embark on this new chapter in a different venue.
“The construction crews are doing an excellent job as well as our administration as they keep them on task,” Green said. “We’re excited, and it is going to be an exciting arena.”
Men’s Head Coach Ritchie McKay said the decision to build the arena speaks to the level of love Liberty has for basketball.
“It’s a dream come true for me, and I know I speak for our program, to have the commitment and the support be reflected in this new arena,” McKay said. “It’s special. It’s going to be one of the best mid-major venues in all the country.”
NCAA basketball nationwide has been instructed to begin regular season play no earlier than Nov. 25 due to COVID-19-related restrictions.
Both of Liberty’s squads are coming off stellar seasons. Led by McKay, the Flames won the ASUN conference championship and were set to play in the NCAA March Madness Tournament for the second consecutive year before COVID-19 health restrictions caused the event to be canceled.
Green’s Lady Flames finished 2019-20 with 20 regular season wins and were named ASUN Tournament co-champions. (The championship game was canceled due to COVID-19.)
“I think with everybody being as competitive as they are, they want to earn that (championship),” Green said. “But we are grateful that the ASUN recognized us as a co-champion; it showed that the ASUN is first-class as well as a progressive and understanding conference.”
The Lady Flames will begin their season on the road vs. Ohio on Nov. 25 before returning to Lynchburg on Dec. 1 to play Norfolk State for their first-ever game in the new arena.
“We’re excited to move forward, and hopefully we can continue to build from our perspective and develop our players,” Green said. “We have some young new players coming in that we feel can have a major impact on our success.”
McKay said the team is excited to show the world what this season’s roster is made of as they come off two straight postseason tournament berths.
“I don’t think our motivation is for retribution of something that none of us had control of,” McKay said. “I think our motivation is just in the pursuit of our program’s overall desire to get better and continue to elevate our program on a regional and a national level.”
He said the Flames are prepared for a schedule filled with talented conference opponents, beginning with road matchups against Stetson on Jan. 2 and Bellarmine on Jan. 4.
“I think our schedule will be immensely challenging, especially early,” he said. “But given the unknowns of the issues that we are more than likely going to face given COVID-19, and the way we have to navigate the tracing and the testing, I think our challenge is to respond the best way we can given the adverse circumstances we know all programs are going to be faced with.”
Both teams have been practicing on the Vines Center practice courts this fall due to a new roof being installed on the Vines Center and the final phases of construction being completed on the Liberty Arena. Green is hopeful that his squad will be able to begin practicing in the new arena soon.
“We think the construction crews are trying to get us in at the end of October,” he said. “We’d love to be in there by Nov. 1, which would be great. It seems like they are moving fast, but they have to deal with COVID-19 restrictions, too.”
When full capacity is allowed, the arena can seat up to 4,000. The new court was recently named the Dr. Orville and Florence Hiepler Court, in memory of two individuals who were moved by the spiritual outreach and ministry focus of the men’s basketball program.
The first conference games scheduled to be played in the arena will be on Jan. 7 and 9, when the Lipscomb Bisons men’s and women’s teams travel to Lynchburg. Green said that he expects the Bisons’ women’s team to have a strong season as they continue to build off of their youth.
“Lipscomb just finished their season under a new coach and she did a great job,” Green said. “They are tenacious.”
Liberty’s men’s team has defeated the Bisons’ in the last two ASUN conference tournament championship games.
Follow LibertyFlames.com for schedule updates and game day information.