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The Lady Flames' Big Little Sister
Family is very important for Liberty junior forward Rebecca Lightfoot. Not only does she cherish her family members who live in Georgia, but she considers her teammates and coaches extended family as well. Ironically, Lightfoot, the youngest of three girls in her family, often plays the invaluable role of big sister for her Lady Flames teammates.
Lightfoot feels some of her most helpful contributions to the Liberty women's basketball program never show up in the stat sheet. A member of the Lady Flames' inaugural leadership council, the junior strives to be an encouragement to her teammates, on and off the court.
The junior's tangible contributions cannot be overlooked, however. When asked what her greatest strengths as a basketball player are, Lightfoot replied, "My coaches always tell me I'm very quick and agile for my height (6-2)."
Such physical attributes are perhaps best illustrated by her impressive high school track & field credentials. Earlier this year, Lightfoot earned all-state honors in both hurdles events, the high jump and the triple jump, while attending Providence Christian Academy.
Her quickness and athleticism has given numerous opposing post players fits, especially when Liberty gets into transition. Lightfoot scored all 11 of her points after halftime in a key victory over James Madison and tallied six of her eight markers during the final 20 minutes of Liberty's triumph at UNLV.
Lightfoot's physical tools and consistent production have made her a regular member of head coach Carey Green's starting lineup for the first time in her career. In fact, she has been a member of the Lady Flames' starting five every game this season except for a Dec. 8 home tilt against Binghamton.
Fittingly, Lightfoot's reserve role in the contest against the Bearcats was directly related to a family commitment. Older sister Erin had given birth to a son, A.J., the previous day and first-time aunt Rebecca had received permission to fly to Georgia for the occasion. "Coach Green knew how much it meant to me," recalled a grateful Lightfoot.
It was uncertain whether or not Lightfoot would be able to return to Lynchburg in time for the game. However, she came straight to the Vines Center from the Richmond Airport and contributed three rebounds to the Lady Flames' triumph.
Liberty's comfortable 76-40 margin of victory against Binghamton that afternoon allowed its three freshmen—Kittery Maine, Rachel McLeod and Heather Smith—to gain some valuable playing experience. It is with this rookie trio that Lightfoot feels a special connection.
Like Lightfoot, this year's freshmen have traveled far from home to attend Liberty and play basketball. Maine is from Georgia, McLeod from Texas and Smith hails from Minnesota. Ironically, Lightfoot hosted all three of them during their official recruiting visits.
"I feel like God laid a burden on my heart for these three girls," explained Lightfoot. "I try to be an ear for them and an encouragement to them, because I know what it's like to be homesick.
"I'm also trying to teach them that it's not just about basketball. We're here to develop our relationships with Christ and mature in our faith."
Lightfoot and her teammates had a unique opportunity to bond with the incoming freshmen this past summer, as they were all (including redshirted freshman Avery Warley) on campus to take classes during the summer sessions. Lightfoot, fellow juniors Alexandria Bream, Megan Frazee, Rachel Hammond and the freshmen spent many afternoons and evenings getting to know each other at a favorite destination of the Lightfoot family, Starbucks.
"I visit Starbucks so often that I've actually built relationships with the people who work there," Lightfoot remarked. "It reminds me of home, because it's something I always do with my family. We like to sit and talk over coffee."
Not only are her Starbucks caramel or hazelnut lattes beneficial for Lightfoot socially, but they also provide medically-proven health benefits, which her father, Gale, is quick to share with willing listeners. For example, Lightfoot notes the fact coffee has alleviated her asthmatic symptoms.
A health promotions major, Lightfoot is interested in meeting health and physical wellness needs of the public in mass. To put it simply, "I'd like to make a living helping people," Lightfoot noted.
The junior is most interested in the areas of community health, especially as it pertains to trauma situations. She hopes to garner an internship with either the American Red Cross or CARE International this summer. In the future, Lightfoot sees herself potentially becoming a coordinator of trauma and disaster relief.
Besides frequent coffee breaks, another of Lightfoot's favorite pastimes, when her extensive basketball commitments allow, is reading books. Her interests run the gamut, from fiction to non-fiction to theology, taking their roots when Lightfoot read "The Atonement Child" by Francine Rivers while in eighth grade. "From then on," Lightfoot admitted, "I've devoured books.
"I get into my own world when I'm reading, such that I even show expressions on my face corresponding to the words on the page. It's a nice way to escape from basketball, which consumes so much time."
Not that the countless hours spent with the basketball team and coaching staff is time wasted, Lightfoot asserts. On the contrary she explained, "I definitely consider the team to be like extended family, including the coaching staff and their wives and husbands. They are the only reason I've been able to attend college so far away from my family. I really need and value the girls' camaraderie and support. When I go home now, I miss my team, something I would have never expected to say when I first came to Liberty."
Lightfoot and company have been enjoying their time together on the court this season as well, getting off to their best start in 10 years and winning tournaments at UNLV and Xavier.
Appropriately, a total team effort has proven to be the major difference between this year's squad and the 2006-07 Lady Flames, who played inconsistently and lost to Radford during last season's Big South Championship semifinals.
A season ago, only four Lady Flames averaged five or more points per game. This year, seven players, including Lightfoot, are doing so. The squad has also collectively remained near the top of the nation's rebounding list, despite the graduation of post stalwarts Karolina Piotrkiewicz and Jamie Feagin and a preseason injury to 6-5 senior Egle Smigelskaite.
The 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates sang Sister Sledge's "We Are Family" all the way to a World Series championship. With the leadership of team big sister Rebecca Lightfoot, the 2007-08 Liberty Lady Flames are hoping a family atmosphere propels them to a Big South Conference title and beyond.
Paul Carmany is an assistant athletics media relations director for Liberty University who covers women's basketball.