Liberty coach Jessica Hain provides a unique description of her team’s disposition when asked to describe it for fans who have never seen the Flames (8-3-0 overall and 2-0-0 in the Big South) play.
“They are a passionate team, a team with heart that plays for an audience of One. That’s part of their mission statement for this year,” she said.
Those familiar with Liberty, an evangelical school in Southern Virginia, will probably guess that the “one” referred to in the audience is Jesus Christ. Hain said the team is dedicated to being a strong ambassador for the Christian Deity.
“They want to play for Christ and display the power and unity of Christ,” she said. “They are tenacious as they play and they try to be extremely encouraging of one another on and off the field.”
While such statements might be expected for a school with the background of Liberty, it rings true from Hain, who played her college soccer at NC State and formerly was an assistant coach at Clemson, Delaware , Creighton and most recently with the Charlotte Eagles of the W-League.
“Sports is a really awesome platform for the girls to learn about Christ and to provide the opportunity to work out their faith (practically). God’s constantly teaching you things and sports is a good platform to teach those things.”
Of course making statements like that can also set a team up for extra scrutiny in the rough and tumble world of college athletics. Hain is not oblivious to that either.
“We talk about it a lot (consistently-good sportsmanship),” she said. “We want to compete, but we never sacrifice our integrity for the win. The kids have to work that out. There’s always temptation to cheat, in school, in sports or whatever, so we do talk about it a lot. We want our faith showing on the field, and it is under attack a little bit. Certain teams have certain reputations, for physical play or being dirty, or whatever. We want to be known for working hard and for having a relentless attitude of never giving up. The team set a goal of winning the big south conference and also winning the sportsmanship award. They want to make the NCAA Tournament and display the character and integrity of winning that would represent the Big South well. They set those goals themselves and I’m really proud of them.
Hain described the Flames as a possession-style team, and she emphasizes the need for them to make that functional, not just aesthetic.
“We try to be urgent going to goal. We want to play possession-style, but you can look really good playing that way and never score a goal and never win a game,” so we talk about the need to play with urgency,” she said. “The girls are skilled.”
The team is currently starting at least five freshmen per match, with a couple other rookies seeing the field a lot. This accentuates the need for Hain to rely on some veteran leaders on the field. She identifies three key leaders as:
The Flames, who were scheduled to play at Coastal Carolina in a key league match Thursday evening, have surrendered just 7 goals in 11 matches thus far. Goal-scoring has not been prolific, but it is notable that 11 players have tallied at least once.