Winning one national championship isn’t an easy feat.
Winning five in a row, and possibly six? How does Liberty University women’s hockey team do it?
“It’s really hard to talk about our run as one flowing team because every team’s so unique,” said Liberty head coach Chris Lowes. “It certainly takes really good hockey. It takes the right culture. But it takes a bit of luck, and it takes all these pieces kind of landing in unison.”
Lowes is in his seventh season coaching the Liberty women’s hockey team after spending nine years on the men’s side at the university, which is inLynchburg, Virginia. When he made the switch, he adopted a nice lineup and a good team that had already been building.
The Liberty Flames have won five national championships in a row, dating back to 2018 — a year when Lowes said they were the underdogs in the finals.
“That started the run,” Lowes said. “Then there’s a streak in there where we went on a pretty big run over two-plus years.”
Liberty was so dominant that it went undefeated across two years on the way to national championships in 2021 and 2022, a winning streak thatended during last year’s regular season.
They were also ranked No. 1 throughout the 2019-20 season before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the ACHA to cancel its national tournament.
“[When] I came in my freshman year, they had already won previous championships,” said Haley Battles, a junior forward. “So I had known that I was filling big shoes.”
Liberty’s reputation as a program has traditionally been centered on its offense, boasting talented puck handlers and goal scorers, according to Lowes. That identity has shifted a little bit this season. They have their deepest, most talented group defensively that Lowes has seen in his seven years behind the team’s bench. That starts with a one-two goaltender tandem with senior Amanda Storey and sophomore Alexandra Keith.
The Flames took a 12-3 record into the holiday break this year, and they’re excited for the second semester of the season to “maybe go be the hunter instead of the hunted,” Lowes said.
One player that’s helping lead Liberty is Battles, who brings something special to the locker room, practices and games, Lowes said. Battles has scored 12 goals in 17 games this season.
Battles is one of the players on the team Lowes can look to when things are going tough. Lowes said Battles is a dangerous offensive player with a hockey style that’s still developing.
Battles said she really liked to push her and her teammates on and off the ice, starting with doing the work in practice to make sure they’re addressing anything that needs to be fixed, like any bad habits.
“The only way you’re going to get better is if you push each other,” Battles said. “Just being a good teammate and always being there for your teammate.”
Like any team coming off any championship, the Flames feel the pressure throughout its regular season. They’ll talk as a team about their opponents coming in and getting up for the games against the defending champs.
“But it’s hard as a team to get up for all 25 regular-season games and have that consistent performance,” Lowes said.
Battles noted that they’ve had a few more losses this season than in recent years — not that it means Liberty is on the downturn, exactly.
“I would definitely say it’s because just the league is getting better, and that is obviously great,” Battles said.
While winning another national championship would be a great achievement, Battles said, hockey is more than that, like also bringing more people to hockey and putting others before themselves.
“It’s much bigger than the championships,” Battles said. “It’s just trying to create the love for hockey and make it bigger for everyone.”
Liberty isn’t just leaving its mark on hockey with championships. The past few years, the Flames have also hosted a residential girls’ hockey camp for youth players at the U12, U14 and U16 levels. More than 50 players participated in last July’s three-day camp at the LaHaye Ice Center.
These camps for girls have slowly developed and grown over the years, according to Lowes. Battles helped with the camp last summer. She admitted she was nervous since it was her first-time coaching.
“But those young girls, all they want to do is learn,” Battles said.
What started out as a camp that drew kids from the region now brings in players from all over the country, and even Canada, Lowes added.
“It’s something that will continue to grow,” Lowes said. “It’s two-fold. It provides exposure. It’s building the brand of Liberty hockey and the name recognition, and it’s slowly become a part of our recruiting system, too.”
Photo courtesy of Liberty University Club Athletics
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.