MCLA Division II Notebook
It's impossible to tell the story of the 2013 Liberty men's lacrosse team, which is currently 9-0 and ranked No. 8 in the country, without recounting the plight of the '05 edition of the Flames. There's no one better to tell the story than Kyle McQuillan, who is the current coach at Liberty and was a player for the program back when this tale began.
It all started on a backroad in Alabama back in '05. Liberty had just finished its game with the Crimson Tide and players were on their way home in a set of vans, McQuillan riding shotgun in the trail vehicle. Neither driver could have predicted that there was a broken down truck just over a ridge in the middle of the road, but somehow the first van squealed to a stop before ramming it. The second van, McQuillan's ride, wasn't able to match the feat. It rammed the first van before rolling off into a ditch while also nudging the lead vehicle into oncoming traffic.
The semi-truck coming the other way didn't have a chance to maneuver, crashing into the Liberty players head on. In that van were 15 players, including the coach and his twin 10-year-old sons, who were along for the trip. Somewhat miraculously, six of the players walked away with minor cuts and bruises. Others were not so fortunate.
"Nobody died, but there have been a lot of significant, long-lasting injuries," McQuillan said. "Our coach suffered pretty significant brain injuries and has had about five or six surguries to date. Our starting goalie, who was riding up front, severed his leg and lost most of his left arm. They were able to reattach both, but with limited mobility. We've got some guys who are going to be dealing with some of these things for the rest of their lives."
The Flames attempted to stay alit, but the excitement for the program waned in the wake of the accident. McQuillan, who was the captain and president at Liberty his senior year, was the one who announced the team's withdrawal from the MCLA in 2007 as the program folded.
The university took a hard look at its club sports programs after the lacrosse team's accident and made some important changes. They developed a rec department that was responsible for overseeing all of the travel plans, including transportation and hotels, along with athletic training and student advising.
In a weird twist, McQuillan was hired as an assistant director of the club sports department after he graduated. Since the school knew of his involvement with the lacrosse program in its previous incarnation, McQuillan was approached in 2010 with a proposal to start the team back up for the 2011 campaign. The answer came swiftly.
"For me, it was an awesome opportunity," McQuillan said. "It gave me and some of the members of that ['05] team the opportunity to bring back something that we didn't want to see go away. The university has done an amazing job of learning from that situation, and from that, basically, they were able to develop a club sports department that lacrosse is a part of. It's all a result, unfortunately, of taking a bad situation and turning it into a positive one."
The team started modestly, rejoining the SELC and starting with an eight game schedule that yielded a 4-4 record. Last spring, the Flames finished with an 8-4 mark, including two one-goal losses to eventual conference champion Elon. With the team getting its own field and locker room facility on campus, the recruits have been pouring in to Lynchburg, resulting in this year's 9-0 mark and Top 10 national ranking.
"With anything, it takes a little bit of time to grow," McQuillan said. "I've underestimated it and have been amazed how quickly we've been able to generate interest. That first year was a good foundational year for us — bringing the sport back, getting reinstated in the SELC where we played before. I feel like we did everything we had to do that year and since then we've continued to build. I've told the guys that every year, realistically, I truly believe we've gotten twice as good as the year before."
Liberty's goals this season — win the SELC for the first time and make its inaugural trip to nationals — are certainly in reach. With nearly a decade gone since that horrific accident on an Alabama back road, the toll it took on countless lives is easy to forget, but it will always be a part of the Flames as long as McQuillan is the head coach.
"I'd be lying if I didn't say the overwhelming feeling I had was redemption," he said. "Not having that ability to play that senior year and knowing all the guys who wanted to be on the field, but physically couldn't because of the injuries they suffered was one of the most rewarding things I've had in my life. Not taking away from any of the success we've had in the last two years, but for me, it was a humbling and awesome opportunity for me to be a part of the rebirth. Not just to bring it back — anyone could have brought lacrosse back to Liberty — but to do it justice and take further."
- St. John's plays its third game of the weekend today (Monday) against Indiana Tech in Chicago, but the Johnnies have already sent a message to the rest of Division II after dismissing Grand Valley State (7-3) and Dayton (13-8) in back-to-back games. A victory over Tech sets up the Game of the Year when St. John's visits St. Thomas on April 6. Mike King, who was profiled in a feature story on Friday, finished with 27 saves in the two wins.
- Washington (Mo.) has as good a chance of any team to come out of the GRLC, but the Bears have played three ranked teams so far and have been outscored, 54-12. They weren't even in the mix with Grove City and Indiana Tech this weekend...Concordia's Dustin Seguin (5g, 6a) and Marcus Turner (5g, 5a) feasted on Cal State San Marcos in a 26-1 victory...Montana State's presence in the weekly polls was based mostly on conjecture, but after losses to Westminser (21-3) and a rebuilding St. Mary's team (10-8), we've got a better idea about the Bobcats.
Liberty will be playing a 'Black Out' game at midnight on Wednesday evening against Tennessee Wesleyan...keeping with the Flames, here's a nifty video of a goal by graduate student Joe Gargiulo in the Liberty's 23-4 romp over Davidson on Saturday...Trinity (Texas) recorded its second forfeit of the season when they no-showed against Houston. It is expected that Trinity will get the boot from the Lone Star Alliance...Western Oregon's gauntlet got off to a less-than-desirable start, as the Wolves lost to North Dakota State, 9-7, on Sunday afternoon.