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Liberty Prepares for Unique Season: 2007-08 Women's Basketball Season Outlook
"First of all, we lost our founder and our No. 1 fan in Dr. Falwell this past spring," reflected Green. "We now have a void which can never really be filled. It's our challenge to continue his vision of excellence and building champions."
Dr. Jerry Falwell, who died on May 15, witnessed many of Green's 185 victories at Liberty from the front row, including the Lady Flames' improbable run to the "Sweet 16" in 2005.
Three players from the Sweet 16 squad—Allyson Fasnacht, Egle Smigelskaite and Courtney Watkins—comprise the senior class of the 2007-08 Lady Flames. They will be joined by a number of new faces this season, something the team did not have to think about a year ago at this time.
The 2006-07 Liberty women's basketball team featured the same exact roster and the same exact coaching staff as the 2005-06 Lady Flames. This year, four new players and two new coaches have joined the fold, adding to the unique nature of the upcoming season.
One of the new faces on the coaching staff is not new to Liberty. Alexis Sherard has joined the Lady Flames as an assistant coach, after serving the Liberty men's basketball team in the same capacity for the past two seasons.
Andrea "Andy" Bloodworth is the other new member of Liberty's coaching staff. She comes to the Lady Flames, after two years at Valparaiso, where she was the Crusaders' recruiting coordinator.
"We have a new chemistry on our team," explained Green, in his ninth season at Liberty. "We have new leadership and more experienced players on our roster than we've had the past couple years."
Nine upperclassmen are included on the Liberty roster, six of whom started eight or more games a season ago. The Lady Flames, who admittedly struggled with complacency last year during their 19-12 campaign, should have no shortage of motivation for the 2007-08 season.
Radford ended Liberty's 10-year run of Big South titles with a last-second, game-winning bucket in the teams' semifinal tilt last season. The same Highlanders are picked to win this year's Big South title in the preseason conference poll. So, the Lady Flames, listed second in the same poll, are now in a unique position as the hunter instead of the hunted. They know it will take dedication to return to the top of the conference standings.
"It's time to move on and earn a new level of excellence through hard work and teamwork," noted Green, who ranks 12th among active NCAA Division I women's basketball coaches in winning percentage. "Our battle cry this year is, ‘Earn it.' There's an excitement in the air with our new additions, and I'm expecting our team to mature and improve daily to be their very best."
Green and the Lady Flames have the luxury of a pair of experienced seniors, Fasnacht and Watkins, to bolster the guard position. The duo has combined to start 97 games in the Liberty backcourt and has been a part of 70 wins in the past three seasons.
Fasnacht, a team leader on and off the court, has been a steadying influence and a clutch performer throughout her Liberty career, at the point guard spot. She has recorded more assists than turnovers during each of her three seasons and has boosted her statistics during Big South play every year. A season ago, the Salem, Va., native was named to the Big South preseason all-conference team, and went on to score 4.6 ppg and distribute 2.0 apg.
"It's great to have this type of leadership from a senior point guard," remarked Green. "Allyson's contributions will be a key factor in the development of our younger players and in the overall success of our team. She has a true understanding of the game and is an excellent coach on the floor."
Speaking of which, Fasnacht's career at Liberty has come full circle. As a freshman in 2004-05, she served as an understudy to senior point guard Daina Staugaitiene. Three years later, Fasnacht will play the role of teacher for Liberty's pair of freshman floor generals, Heather Smith and Rachel McLeod.
Smith, who stands 5-11, was a multi-sport star at Mahmotedi High School, just outside Minnesota's Twin Cities. In addition to playing point guard for the Zephyrs, she played forward for a three-time state champion soccer team and was an all-state performer in the long jump.
"Heather is a tremendous athlete," observed Green. "She could contribute early on as a defensive specialist. As she matures, her athletic ability will become even more of a challenge for opponents."
McLeod, hailing from Houston, Texas, was home schooled. The granddaughter of an NBA player, the 5-10 guard was rated the 12th-best junior in the state and played for the Homeschool Christian Youth Association (HCYA).
"At this point, Rachel has been a pleasant addition to our team because of her work ethic," Green stated. "She is a very determined player who possesses many skills. She has paid a high price during the offseason with her conditioning, which should pay great dividends during the season."
Although the Lady Flames have an ideal setup at the point guard position, with a skilled, seasoned veteran to guide a pair of promising newcomers, Green insists the team's greatest strength lies elsewhere.
Shooting Guard/Small Forward
"Our team's greatest asset is the amount of depth we possess at the shooting guard and small forward positions," asserted the ninth-year head coach, who needs 15 wins to reach 200 for his career.
Leading the way at shooting guard is senior Watkins, who has appeared in every one of the Lady Flames' 95 games since she arrived on campus. One of the top outside shooters on the roster, Watkins ranked third on the squad with 15 three-pointers during the 2006-07 season. She, like Fasnacht, took good care of the basketball, recording 46 assists to just 33 turnovers.
"Courtney possesses a tremendous amount of experience," noted Green. "She is skilled on the defensive end and is a great shooter. She helps spread opponents' defense and makes the right decisions with the basketball."
Junior Rachel Hammond also figures to contribute in a major way in the Lady Flames' backcourt. She has often been counted upon as a spark off the Liberty bench during her first two seasons and has saved some of her best performances for the Big South Championship. The Clearwater, Fla., native made the Big South all-tournament team as a freshman and scored 10 points against Radford in the semifinal match-up last season.
"Rachel is a very gifted scorer, who has the ability to score points quickly," explained Green. "She has finished strong each of the past two seasons. We expect her to start this year well, with more experience under her belt. Rachel is a great student of the game and excels in the classroom as well."
Hammond, a social science major, has maintained a perfect 4.0 GPA so far, and her efforts helped the Lady Flames rank No. 7 nationally with a 3.508 team GPA for the 2006-07 academic year.
Another of Liberty's exceptional student-athletes, Alexandria Bream will add depth at the shooting guard spot during her junior season. One of the Lady Flames' best pure shooters, all of Bream's made field goals were of the three-point variety in 2006-07.
"Alex makes tremendous team contributions," Green stated. "She is one of the best shooters on our team. She also exemplifies the heart and soul of a Lady Flame on the court and in the classroom."
Three more juniors—Megan Frazee, Rebecca Lightfoot and Molly Frazee—will hold down the small forward position for the Lady Flames, although each member of the trio is versatile enough to play elsewhere on the court if necessary.
Megan Frazee, one-third of the only set of triplets currently playing for a Division I women's basketball team, had a stellar sophomore season after an injury-shortened freshman campaign. She led the team with 17.2 ppg and 8.5 rpg and was a first-team All-Big South honoree.
The Preseason Big South Player of the Year for the second-straight year, Frazee also earned an invite to the USA Women's Basketball National Team Trials in May. She played under the basket quite a bit at the Trials, something Green would like to see Frazee do more of this season, even though she connected on 41 percent of her three-point offerings last season.
"Megan has contributed to the success of our basketball program in a major way," admitted Green. "Her hard work during the offseason leads us to expect a more complete inside/outside game from her this year. Our objective is to utilize her size and strength more in the post area, which will help complement her ability to score from the perimeter."
Lightfoot, a lanky but athletic 6-2 guard/forward, also possesses the skills to play in the paint or on the perimeter. Her offensive production increased significantly from her freshman to sophomore year. A season ago, Lightfoot averaged 4.9 ppg and 3.5 rpg and earned 11 appearances in the Lady Flames' starting five.
"Becca provides us with great intensity, leadership and a desire to win," said Green. "She possesses a complete game, with the ability to shoot the three, drive and finish with either hand around the basket. Her passion for the team makes her the ultimate team player."
Molly Frazee, the final piece of the Lady Flames' small forward trifecta, earned increased playing time as a sophomore and made the most of her opportunities. She ranked third on the team with 6.2 ppg, hauled in 3.5 rpg and sank 43 percent of her three-pointers on the season. Green believes her skills and those of Lightfoot complement each other nicely, and he feels confident when they are on the floor together.
"Molly is an extremely good three-point shooter," observed Green. "She also has great ball-handling skills and the strength to finish inside."
Moriah Frazee, also a junior, returns to lead a comparatively inexperienced group of post players for the Lady Flames, after starting 29 of Liberty's 31 games a season ago. She ranked second on the squad with 7.6 ppg and 4.4 rpg and paced the team with 20 blocked shots.
Frazee also played a significant role in helping Liberty rank fifth nationally in rebounding margin, as the Lady Flames ripped down an average of 10.6 more boards per game than their opponents, on average.
"Moriah possesses a solid, dependable power game," Green noted. "She is a difficult defensive match-up, with her ability to drive and finish with either hand around the basket, as well as be a perimeter threat. She has also developed into an excellent post defender."
Egle Smigelskaite, the tallest player on the Liberty roster at 6-5, is the Lady Flames' other returning letterwinner in the post. She has battled a variety of injuries throughout her three years in the program, and most recently, suffered a foot injury which will sideline Smigelskaite for the start of her senior season. Like most of the taller Lady Flames, Smigelskaite, who hails from Klaipeda, Lithuania, possesses a deft shooting touch.
"Egle is perhaps our most improved player at this point because of her desire to win and contribute in a major way as a senior," asserted Green. "She has worked extremely hard to finish strong. Egle can be counted on to score both inside and outside and has a good basketball IQ."
Adding depth under the basket are a pair of sizable freshmen, 6-4 Kittery Maine and 6-3 Avery Warley. "Both Kittery and Avery come from very successful high school programs, and both bring a desire to win," noted Green.
Maine led the Warner Robins High School girls' basketball team to the Sweet 16 in Georgia as a senior, leading her squad in rebounds (7.5 rpg), blocked shots (2.3 bpg) and field goal percentage (49 percent). The Demons' most valuable defensive player on the hardwood, Maine also played for the Warner Robins softball team, which placed fifth in the state.
"Kittery is an exceptional athlete, who possesses a tremendous amount of strength and the ability to score inside," stated Green. "She also has a great shooting touch from the perimeter, especially from three-point range."
Warley, from H.D. Woodson High School in Washington, D.C., was twice an all-metro selection. The newcomer helped her team capture the DCIAA title as a freshman and as a senior.
"Avery brings tremendous athletic ability, agility and an understanding of the game," remarked Green. "She has continued to improve daily throughout the preseason and we look forward to major contributions from her in the future. She has the ability to impact the outcome of a game."
Warley will redshirt her first season with the Lady Flames.
The Lady Flames have enjoyed 11-consecutive winning seasons, but have made it difficult on themselves if they hope to extend the streak to a dozen years. Liberty's 2007-08 season schedule features five games versus 2007 NCAA Tournament teams, including a Dec. 30 match-up with Final Four qualifier North Carolina. The Lady Flames will play 11 contests against 20-win teams from a year ago.
Liberty fans will have to wait until the final day of November to see the Lady Flames in action at the Vines Center. The team's first six regular-season games will take place away from Lynchburg, and Green's squad will open the 2007-08 season with a pair of trips to Greensboro, N.C.
The Lady Flames are slated to meet UNC Greensboro, 20-10 a year ago, in the lid-lifter on Nov. 13. Three days later, Liberty will return to Greensboro to battle North Carolina A&T, which returns its entire roster from last season's 17-13 squad.
On Nov. 19, Liberty will square off with the first of two ACC opponents on its schedule, when the Lady Flames travel to Cassell Coliseum to play Virginia Tech. The Lady Flames are still seeking their first-ever victory over the Hokies, who went 19-15 and reached the second round of the 2007 WNIT Tournament.
Later that week, the Lady Flames will celebrate Thanksgiving in Cincinnati, Ohio, where Liberty will play a trio of games in the National City Xavier Invitational at Xavier's Cintas Center, Nov. 23-25.
The Lady Flames will meet McNeese State on the opening day of the tournament, Houston on Saturday and Xavier on Sunday. The host Musketeers went 26-8 in 2006-07, capturing the Atlantic-10 Tournament title and earning a trip to the NCAA Tournament.
A season-long four-game homestand, beginning with the home opener versus Virginia Union on Nov. 30, will open the Lady Flames' slate of 13 games at the Vines Center. In-state rival James Madison, coming off a 27-6 season, which netted the Dukes an at-large NCAA Tournament berth, travels to Liberty on Dec. 4.
The string of home games will come to an end with back-to-back Saturday match-ups, a contest against Binghamton on Dec. 8 and Liberty's first-ever game versus Glenville State on Dec. 15. Glenville State won 33 games a year ago on its way to the NCAA Division II Elite Eight.
Liberty's final two games before Christmas will be played in Las Vegas, at the UNLV Lady Rebel Christmas Classic. The Lady Flames will square off with Ball State, which was 24-7 during the 2006-07 campaign and participated in the WNIT Tournament, in the tournament opener on Dec. 20. After meeting the Cardinals, the Lady Flames will face either Austin Peay or host UNLV the following evening, with either the championship or third place at stake.
The 2007 calendar year will come to a close with a trip to Carmichael Auditorium to battle North Carolina for the second time in three seasons. The Tar Heels return three starters from their back-to-back Final Four qualifiers.
Two of the Lady Flames' first three January contests will be played at the Vines Center, including a Jan. 5 game with Richmond and a Jan. 15 match-up against George Mason. Sandwiched in between the two games is a Jan. 8 road trip to East Tennessee State, a team which won 20 games and earned a WNIT bid last season.
"It is our goal to return to the NCAA Tournament this season, and our non-conference schedule was put together with that objective in mind," stated Green. "It is our hope that playing ACC teams, like North Carolina and Virginia Tech, as well as top-flight mid-major programs like James Madison and Xavier will prepare us for the rigors of conference play and acclimate our newcomers to the collegiate game."
Liberty will start Big South competition with the "Beach Trip," as the Lady Flames are scheduled to play at Charleston Southern on Jan. 19 and at Coastal Carolina on Jan. 21.
After the Lady Flames return to the Commonwealth, six of the next seven contests will be played at home, beginning with a Jan. 26 visit by Presbyterian. The Blue Hose, in transition to the Division I level, will become full members of the Big South Conference in 2011-12.
Liberty will then play host to defending Big South regular-season champion High Point on Jan. 29 and Winthrop on Feb. 2. A Feb. 6 visit to Radford, which won 20 games last season, will break up the string of home games.
2007 Big South champion UNC Asheville is scheduled to play at Liberty on Feb. 9, to wrap up the first round of conference play. The Lady Flames are slated to host Coastal Carolina a week later and Charleston Southern on Feb. 18.
Liberty will return to the road for a trio of conference contests, beginning with a tilt at High Point on Feb. 23. Match-ups at Winthrop on Feb. 27 and at UNC Asheville on March 1 follow.
The regular season will come to a close with a March 7 home game versus Radford. Seniors Allyson Fasnacht, Egle Smigleskaite and Watkins will be honored prior to tip-off.
For the second-consecutive year, UNC Asheville's Justice Center will play host to the Big South Women's Basketball Championship. The tournament will be held March 14-16, with the winner earning the conference's automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament, which is set to tip off on March 22.