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Finding Her Place
The following article first appeared in issue No. 2 of the Flames Illustrated game program for the 2012-13 basketball season, which was available at the Vines Center between Dec. 13-28. Terika Lunsford and the Lady Flames will play their first two Big South home games of the season this week, hosting Presbyterian College Thursday at 7 p.m. and welcoming UNC Asheville to the Vines Center Saturday at 3 p.m.
Senior small forward Terika Lunsford took an unlikely path to Liberty and the Lady Flames basketball team.
A basketball star for Lakeland High School, Lunsford set the Lady Cavaliers' scoring record with 1,180 career points and recorded impressive averages across the board in her senior year.
"I wasn't as disciplined in my game then," Lunsford reflected, "but I learned a lot about the game. My coach was very knowledgeable about basketball, so he instilled a lot of knowledge in me."
That knowledge, along with her natural ability, landed Lunsford a full basketball scholarship to the University of Albany. The accomplishment was both personally and historically special, as Lunsford became Lakeland High School's first women's basketball player ever to earn an NCAA Division I scholarship.
While Lunsford said that the experience was special, it wasn't long before she found herself having second thoughts regarding her school of choice.
"I didn't really like the atmosphere. I just felt like it wasn't the place for me," she explained. "I knew of Liberty already because it was one of the colleges I was looking at before I went to my first school, so I felt like maybe if I just gave the coaches a call and told them I was interested in the school, looking at transferring, that maybe they would have some room for me. They happened to have some space, so I just came over and walked on. It all worked out."
In fact, head coach Carey Green was more than pleased to help a dissatisfied Lunsford find her way to his team.
Grinning, Green recalled, "I think basically it was a little bit too cold in the New York area, a little bit too far from Mom and Dad, and she wanted to come back to Virginia. She and her family hold great Christian values, so truly it was a perfect fit for her to come here and join our program."
"I decided to come to a place where I would grow academically as well as spiritually," Lunsford summed up. "Liberty was the place for me."
The transition was far from seamless, though.
As is the case with any transfer athlete, Lunsford had a lot of adjustments to make. After sitting out the obligatory year of playing to preserve eligibility, she found herself on new turf and with a new system to learn.
Rather than becoming discouraged, though, she turned to hard work and hustle; which, as far as Lunsford is concerned, applies as much to responsibilities off the court as those she shoulders on it.
Team leadership has been her priority from the start.
"I think being a team leader means leading by example. You might not always do everything right and give all you have, then you get your team behind you and they give all they have, too," she stated.
Assistant coach Heather Stephens added, "Terika's been a part of this team for three years now, and she's always been a lead-by-example type of player. She comes in and gets the work done. There are leaders that are more loud, kind of boisterous; and Terika's not the loudest player on the court, but she has great work ethic, works hard every day and leads through example that way. She gets the job done."
"She's been nothing but a pleasure to coach, always there and giving us her very best," Green remarked. "We're very thankful for her leadership."
Lunsford's work to better the team as a whole has resulted in individual benefits, too.
Her game - fittingly inspired by the relentless effort of favorite athlete Diana Taurasi - has developed considerably in her time as a Lady Flame. Lunsford finished the 2011-12 season with improved numbers across the board, including a near double-double against 12 ranked Oklahoma, a career-best three steals versus Glenville State and career-high 11 points posted against Winthrop.
"Terika has another gear that a lot of other players can't play at, and she's very explosive," Stephens continued. "Defenders always have to be on their toes ready to guard her. Basically we feel as a staff, though, that there's nobody who can really stop Terika when her mind is set on getting to the basket."
Lunsford summed up her style of play, saying, "I try to play with finesse. I don't want to predictable. I just try to keep my opponents on their toes and do what I do - be as aggressive as possible and have fun at the same time."
Though currently battling injuries, including a hip pointer and problems with both achilles tendons, Lady Flames fans can expect one of their strongest leaders off the court to make just as significant an impact once she's back on it.
"During the offseason, Terika has continued to work hard. She is one of our two most improved players working up to this season," Green confirmed. "She's done a great job leading in our preseason training, and she's probably our best overall athlete. We're ready to have her back out there getting some solid minutes."
Regardless of when she'll return to the hardwood, one thing is sure: Lunsford will keep her head up and lift her entire team in the process. She may have taken an unusual journey to Liberty University, but now it's impossible to imagine the Lady Flames without her selfless influence.
"Terika and every one of the seniors on our team have been here in our family for four to five years now," Green stated. "They know our system; a system and tradition of winning and playing to honor and glorify God, and players like Terika understand that. We are thankful for the super leadership from her and our seniors this year."
Ryley Rush is a Liberty University freshman and is a freelance writer for Liberty Athletics.