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Lady Flames Feature: The Numbers Add Up for Webber and the Lady Flames
Just two years removed from a nine-win season, the Liberty volleyball team has already recorded nine victories this year. The player wearing uniform number 9, junior middle blocker Ashley Webber, has been a major factor in the Lady Flames' early success, as she is enjoying the best season of her career.
Webber, one of three Californians on the 2007 Liberty roster, leads the team with 59 blocks and ranks second on the squad with a .249 attack percentage. She has already set single-season career highs for kills (122) and blocks and was named to the all-tournament team at the Wright State Raider Challenge.
The junior, who knew she had a good chance to become a regular starter after the graduation of middle blockers Autum Black and Rachel Denton, prepared herself for a breakthrough year during the offseason.
"Working out was at the top of my list this past summer," explained Webber, who aspires to be a strength and conditioning coach at the college level. "I also paid attention to my nutrition more than ever before and just tried to play as much volleyball as I could."
Webber's stellar play this season is not totally unexpected. The 6-1 middle blocker displayed flashes of her potential during each of her first two years with the Lady Flames. Webber tallied eight blocks in a win over Davidson as a freshman and went on to rank 10th in the Big South with 0.91 blocks per game a season ago. Her steady improvement has encouraged head coach Shane Pinder.
"We are excited as a staff to see the progression Ashley has made," commented Pinder. "Her club team did not use her much offensively. So, we knew coming in that we would have to train Ashley to be more offensive-minded.
"She has always blocked the ball well for us," Pinder continued. "Now, we are excited to see her explode offensively during her junior year."
Liberty has improved as a team each of the past three seasons as well. After the aforementioned 9-22 campaign in 2005, the Lady Flames won nine of 14 Big South matches last season and finished third in the Big South. This year, Liberty is off to its best start since 1997, with wins over quality programs like George Washington and Princeton to its credit.
Webber believes several factors, both on the court and off of it, have contributed to the Lady Flames' ascension up the Big South standings.
"We, as a team, have gotten stronger offensively," noted Webber. "Getting better at the middle blocker position has really helped us. We also have more size, and that helps a lot on the court.
"Our team chemistry has also gotten better every year I have been here," the junior observed. "We were a young team when I arrived on campus, and we have a nice core of players who have stuck together for several years now. Also, everyone on our team takes workouts and practices seriously and we share the same mindset."
Webber, the only upperclassman currently living on campus, has been able to connect with the Lady Flames' newcomers as a result. She believes the off-the-court leadership she has provided the young players to be one of her most important contributions as a leader on the team.
Webber can especially relate to freshmen Karyl Bacon and Rebecca Waneka, who are each a couple thousand miles away from home. She too left behind her parents, Tony and Wendy, and younger brother, Garrett, in Lakeside, Calif., to attend college and play volleyball all the way across the country.
"The night before I came to Liberty, I stayed up all night crying because I was so nervous," Webber recalled. "The first week of preseason was the hardest, being away from home and not knowing any of the drills. Then, things started to pick up as I continued to push myself and play."
Another factor pulling Webber through those difficult early weeks was her belief that Liberty was where God wanted her. He had closed other doors, and all things seemed to point Webber to Liberty, even though she had never heard of the school before then-head coach Chris Phillips began sending her recruiting materials as a high school sophomore.
Phillips eventually offered Webber a scholarship to play volleyball for the Lady Flames. However, when Pinder replaced Phillips as Liberty's head coach, Webber and her family experienced some tenuous moments. They were not sure if Pinder would honor the scholarship offer, but he quickly assured Webber he still wanted her to play for the Lady Flames.
Pinder has not regretted the decision one bit. "We want our players to come into our program and develop," he explained. "Ashley has done just that. The biggest reason why is the fact she is so coachable. We are excited for her future, because she keeps getting better."
Webber, too, is thankful things worked out for her to attend Liberty. "It is awesome getting the opportunity to represent a school like Liberty," she remarked. "I love being able to pray with the other team after each match. So many players have thanked us and have asked us questions about our faith. It has been a great experience."
Webber also expressed the desire she and her teammates share to continue improving their level of play on the court, which will in turn expand the team's platform for testimony. A trip to the NCAA Tournament would do just that, and the Lady Flames are aiming to qualify for the postseason by winning the Big South Championship title at the Vines Center on Nov. 17.
What will it take for Liberty to unseat five-time defending champion Winthrop and capture its first conference title since 2001?
"We have shown we can play with anyone on our schedule," answered Webber. "We just have to keep working on the little things, as Coach Pinder tells us all the time."
A Liberty conference title would not take people completely by surprise. Four voters in the Big South preseason poll picked the Lady Flames as the favorite to win conference championship number four in program history and the first under Pinder. Any way you add it up, though, number 9, Ashley Webber, figures to be squarely in the middle of the equation for the Lady Flames.
Written By Paul Carmany
Assistant Athletic Media Relations Director