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2014-15 Women's Basketball Season Preview
Liberty will play its first three games of the 2014-15 season at the Vines Center, hosting Charlotte (Friday, 6 p.m.), VCU (Nov. 18, Noon) and Saint Joseph's (Nov. 22, 2 p.m.)
For most college basketball teams, a 20-win season would be cause for celebration. However, that was not the case for the 2013-14 Liberty women's basketball squad, which posted a 20-11 record but failed to qualify for a postseason tournament for just the second time in 18 years.
Seeing their season come to an abrupt end with a loss to Winthrop in the 2014 Big South Women's Basketball Championship semifinal round has been a major source of motivation for the returning players and coaching staff for the 2014-15 campaign.
"It's been a wakeup call that we have to give a better effort," noted 16th-year head coach Carey Green, who has guided the Lady Flames to a dozen NCAA Tournament appearances. "We were inconsistent with our efforts a year ago and ended the season with disappointment."
The 2014-15 Lady Flames' 15-player roster features 10 juniors and seniors. That wealth of experience and leadership will be a valuable asset, according to Green. "Our team is more focused this year than it was last year," he observed. "That starts with our overall leadership from experienced seniors and other seasoned players. This team's leadership is as good as any we've ever had before."
Senior guards Emily Frazier and Ellee Rollins are both returning team captains from 2013-14 and are joined in the senior class by forward Jasmine Gardner and guard Karly Buer, a transfer from Missouri State.
The Big South Conference head coaches believe that Liberty has what it takes to return to the top of the conference standings in 2014-15. For the 17th time in 18 years, the Lady Flames were tabbed as the preseason conference favorite, just ahead of defending regular-season champion High Point and reigning tournament titlist Winthrop.
Before Liberty gets to its grueling 20-game Big South Conference schedule, though, it will have to navigate its way through an extremely challenging non-conference slate. The Lady Flames will face preseason national No. 2 South Carolina, three-time defending Big 10 champion Penn State, NC State, Minnesota and Saint Joseph's, just to name a few. "We will get an early idea of things we need to address to become a premier program," Green stated.
"We hope to be much better prepared this season as we go into tournament time and approach March Madness," noted Green. For the third season in a row, the 2015 Big South Women's Basketball Championship will take place at The HTC Center in Conway, S.C., March 3-8, with the victor earning a coveted NCAA Tournament berth.
A position-by-position breakdown of the 2014-15 Lady Flames follows.
Liberty's senior leadership begins with Frazier at the floor general spot. Frazier, who has been a part of the program since the second half of the 2009-10 season, bounced back from knee surgery to average 7.3 ppg, 3.6 rpg and 3.4 apg a year ago. She has appeared in 90 games during her career and has tallied 312 career assists and made 64 triples.
Junior Sadalia Ellis, who started the first 12 games of the 2013-14 campaign at point guard led the Lady Flames with 4.0 apg and scored a career-best 6.9 ppg.
Buer, who will split time between point guard and shooting guard, started 78 times and scored 773 points during her time at Missouri State. One of five Lady Flames who already own bachelor's degrees, Buer will look for a strong finish to her collegiate career at Liberty this season.
Rounding out the Lady Flames' options at point guard is freshman Candice Leatherwood, who helped her team at Farmington Hills Mercy (Mich.) High School go 77-20 in four seasons.
Liberty also boasts a pair of seniors on the wing, in the form of Buer and Ellee Rollins, who will return to her natural position in 2014-15. Rollins, Audrey Rettstatt, Simone Brown and Mickayla Sanders were all pressed into duty in the post at times a year ago due to injuries, but will primarily play on the perimeter this season.
Brown and Sanders both made the Big South All-Freshman Team a season ago, and the duo hopes to build on those accomplishments as sophomores. Sanders was the Lady Flames' second-leading scorer at 10.0 ppg and knocked down a team-high 51 three-pointers. Brown, who earned a starting role late in the season, posted 5.2 ppg and 4.6 rpg as a rookie.
Junior Jaymee Fisher-Davis, best known for her deft shooting touch, connected on a team-best 37.2 percent of her three-point tries in 2013-14 and averaged 5.0 ppg off of the bench.
Post play was already an area of strength for the 2013-14 Lady Flames, who topped the nation in rebounding margin at +15.2. Redshirt juniors Katelyn Adams, Catherine Kearney and Ashley Rininger, all of whom stand 6-4 or taller, return in 2014-15. They will be joined by the 6-2 Gardner, who is back for her final season of competition after missing the entire 2013-14 campaign due to injury.
Rininger was a first team All-Big South performer a season ago, after topping the team in points (14.7 ppg) and rebounds (9.0 rpg) while racking up 16 double-doubles.
Adams chipped in 8.5 ppg and 8.3 rpg in 2013-14, grabbing seven or more boards in 27 of her 31 appearances.
Kearney was enjoying a career year (7.2 ppg, 6.3 rpg) in 2013-14 prior to suffering a season-ending injury in early February.
During the 2012-13 season, Gardner started 33 times at power forward and ranked eighth in the Big South with 7.3 rpg.