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2008-09 Liberty Women's Basketball Outlook
Similarly, 10th-year Liberty head women's basketball coach Carey Green notices an interesting blend of personnel on his 2008-09 Lady Flames roster. His team possesses both a wealth of experience, in the form of six seniors, and an abundance of new faces and uncertainty, as Liberty's lineup features seven newcomers. In fact, the makeup of this year's squad is similar to that of the 2004-05 Lady Flames, who advanced to the "Sweet 16" of the NCAA Tournament.
The 2004-05 Liberty women's basketball team was spearheaded by a five-member senior class highlighted by current WNBA player Katie Feenstra. However, the Lady Flames also received key contributions from precocious freshmen like Allyson Fasnacht and Courtney Watkins.
The abilities and merits of this year's senior class are unmistakable. Megan Frazee has been tabbed the Big South Preseason Player of the Year for the third time in a row, while sister Moriah Frazee is also a Big South preseason all-conference selection. Three of this year's seniors already find themselves among Liberty's top 40 scorers in program history and four seniors are listed within the Lady Flames' all-time top 50 rebounders.
In order for the six seniors to close out their time at Liberty with their best season, though, they will need to follow the same recipe which worked for the 2004-05 Lady Flames and find the proper mixture of seasoned experience and youthful exuberance. Green is excited about the ingredients at his disposal, as Liberty aims to defend its Big South Conference title and return to the NCAA Tournament for the 12th time in the last 13 seasons.
"Enthusiasm best describes the atmosphere regarding this year's team," noted Green, the 2008 Big South Coach of the Year. "Our team possesses a unique blend of skills, talents and experience. The six seniors are especially anxious to defend the Big South championship, return to the NCAA Tournament and experience advancement into the tournament."
Around the conference, Liberty is considered a heavy favorite to again capture this season's Big South crown. The Lady Flames captured 17 of 19 possible first-place votes in the preseason coaches and media poll.
Before Liberty begins its newly-expanded 16-game conference schedule, though, the Lady Flames must navigate one of the most daunting non-conference slates in program history. Liberty is scheduled to play four 2008 NCAA Tournament participants and four of last season's WNIT squads. Those numbers could grow, depending on the Lady Flames' performances in the Preseason WNIT, GW Thanksgiving Classic and Hokie Hardwood Classic.
"Without question, this season's challenges are unique," stated Green. "However, this team is also unique and capable of meeting those challenges."
A position-by-position team preview follows.
For the first time since the 2003-04 campaign, Allyson Fasnacht will not figure into the Lady Flames' plans at the point guard spot. She completed her eligibility last season, after starting 95 games during her four years at Liberty. Fasnacht played an integral role on three Big South championship-winning teams, and it will be difficult for any one player to fill her shoes. (Interestingly, none of Liberty's 15 players on the 2008-09 roster will wear Fasnacht's No. 10 uniform.)
Rachel McLeod, a 5-10 sophomore, is one of three players who figures to see playing time at the floor general spot this season. She not only had the opportunity to learn under Fasnacht's tutelage a year ago, but also made some immediate contributions in key situations.
In only her second collegiate game, McLeod contributed nine points, five rebounds, three assists and four steals in a four-point win at North Carolina A&T. Later in the season, McLeod scored five points in the final 1:28 of a hard-fought Big South road win at High Point. During the year, the rookie from Houston, Texas displayed both the ability to protect the basketball (66-60 assist-to-turnover ratio) and a deft shooting touch (46.3 percent field goal shooting).
"Rachel continues to challenge for playing time at both the point guard and shooting guard positions," explained Green. "She possesses all of the necessary skills and has worked very hard at refining those skills. She will be a major contributor this season."
A pair of newcomers, junior college transfer Amber Mays and incoming freshman DeAnna Fuqua, also figure into the equation at point guard.
Mays, who stands 5-6, enters her junior season after a garnering a pair of honorable mention NJCAA All-America selections during her two years at State Fair Community College. She is perhaps best known for defense, averaging more than three steals per contest during each of her seasons at State Fair.
"Amber will be the most explosive, exciting new personality on the court for us this season," Green observed. "She loves to play defense. Amber will be counted on to provide high energy throughout the season, and brings experience with an unsurpassed desire to win."
Fuqua, a 5-8 guard, comes to the Lady Flames from Nashville, Tenn., and Whites Creek Comprehensive High School. She was a four-time All-Region IV selection who averaged 15.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 6.0 apg and 4.0 spg as a high school senior.
"DeAnna is an explosive guard with a great shooting touch and exceptional passing skills," said Green. "She handles the ball with authority. However, her contributions will be directly impacted by current injuries."
Whereas the Lady Flames are a bit inexperienced at point guard, with a sophomore and two newcomers running the show, the team is much more experienced at the shooting guard spot.
Liberty has a pair of senior shooting guards in Rachel Hammond and Alexandria Bream, a luxury which will help offset the graduation of Courtney Watkins. The Big South's all-time games played leader with 127 contests, Watkins was a second-team All-Big South honoree during a breakout senior campaign, which saw her average 8.6 points per outing.
The 5-9 Hammond looks for a similar breakthrough during her fourth and final season in a Liberty uniform. A natural scorer, she has displayed flashes of potential throughout her Lady Flame career, including a Big South all-tournament team mention as a freshman. Hammond, a Florida native, has drained 40 career three-pointers.
"Rachel is one of the most explosive scoring guards on our team," noted Green, who ranks 10th among active NCAA Division I women's basketball coaches with a .758 career winning percentage. "She has continued to improve throughout her career and will be counted on as a leader this season. Rachel possesses an unsurpassed intensity level."
Like Hammond, Liberty's other fourth-year shooting guard is also an effective outside shooter. Alexandria Bream connected on nine of her 16 three-point attempts in 2007-08, shooting at a .563 clip. For her career, more than half (13 of 24) of her made field goals are triples. Bream also contributes to the team in other, less noticeable ways, according to Green.
"Alex is a scoring threat from the perimeter," stated Green. "She also demonstrates self-sacrificing effort from a leadership position. Her intangible contributions add so much to our team."
The Lady Flames' other two primary shooting guards are freshmen who played high school basketball within the Commonwealth, 5-11 Brittany Campbell and 5-10 Devon Brown. In fact, Campbell attended Brookville High School, literally down the street from the Liberty campus. She helped the Bees go 98-11 during her high school hardwood career, scoring 1,202 career points.
"Brittany is an exemplary Liberty player," Green observed. "She has a winning desire and intensity, along with the skills of a champion. She is a scoring threat who understands the game very well. Brittany will be a positive contributor throughout her career."
Brown joins the Lady Flames after one of the most prolific high school basketball careers in Commonwealth history. She ranks second on the all-time Virginia high school scoring list, with 2,728 points during her four years at Waynesboro High School, and is third on the list with 1,329 rebounds. As a senior, Brown helped the Little Giants go 26-4 and claim state runner-up honors, earning the co-state player of the year distinction. She is a candidate to redshirt her freshman season.
"Devon is very talented, but her role on this year's team is currently in question due to injury," noted Green. "She has a tremendous understanding of the game and will be a major contributor when the opportunity is presented."
Another of Liberty's six freshmen, 6-1 Danika Dale, will be able to look up to two talented, versatile senior small forwards, Megan Frazee and Rebecca Lightfoot. All three players will likely see time at numerous positions for Green this season.
Frazee, who stands 6-3, is coming off her best season. She led the Big South with 18.6 ppg and ranked second with 9.5 rpg, capturing Big South Player of the Year and Big South Championship MVP honors. The latter award came after Frazee tallied 20 second-half points, including the game-winning hoop with 0.3 seconds left, in the Big South Championship game against Radford.
Frazee presents a myriad of matchup problems for opponents, as she is strong enough to play under the basket, but still possesses a nice outside shooting touch, as evidenced by her .351 three-point field goal percentage last season. One of the most highly-decorated players in program history, Frazee will play a major role in whatever Liberty is able to accomplish as a team during her senior campaign.
"Megan has improved amazingly during the off-season," asserted Green. "She experienced international play over the summer, when she toured with Athletes in Action. Megan possesses the skills and strength to play on anyone's team in America. She's a high-caliber player."
Frazee made a complete recovery from ACL surgery in time to enjoy a solid sophomore season in 2006-07. This year, her classmate Rebecca Lightfoot is aiming to make a similar recovery from an ACL injury. Last season, the athletic 6-2 guard/forward averaged career-high totals for both scoring (5.6 ppg) and rebounding (4.6 rpg). She also established herself as a strong second half player, often tallying most of her statistics after the intermission. For example, Lightfoot posted all 11 of her points in the Lady Flames' first-ever triumph over James Madison during the final 20 minutes of play.
"Becca is a starter who is currently recovering from injuries," noted Green. "She will be counted upon heavily this year as a senior. Becca can play in the post as well as on the perimeter and plays a major role in our success."
Serving as Frazee and Lightfoot's understudy will the lanky Dale, of Fort Hood, Texas. The first girls' basketball player at Shoemaker High School ever to earn a NCAA Division I athletic scholarship, Dale averaged a double-double as a senior, consisting of 17.4 ppg and 11.0 rpg. Based upon Green's below description, some of her attributes already sound familiar to those of her position mates.
"Danika is capable of playing both inside and outside, but her primary strength lies at the small forward position," said Green. "She brings athleticism and exciting skills to our team."
Liberty has ranked among the top five teams in the nation for rebounding margin for five consecutive seasons. The Lady Flames possess the size to continue the streak in 2008-09, with five players listed at 6-3 or taller. Four of them will see action at either power forward or center.
The play of senior Moriah Frazee in the post was an invaluable part of Liberty's success last season, especially with Egle Smigelskaite injured for most the season and Avery Warley redshirting. She boosted her scoring average more than five points from the previous season, to 13.2 ppg, and lifted her field goal percentage from .453 to a Big South-leading .581. As a result, Frazee joined her sister Megan on the first-team All-Big South roster at season's end. Green hopes for similar contributions during Frazee's senior campaign.
"Moriah was a major anchor in the post last season," stated Green. "She will be counted upon to improve and repeat her performance as a senior."
The final member of Liberty's triplets, 6-2 Molly Frazee, is also coming off a good junior season. She posted career-best averages for both points (8.3 ppg) and rebounds (4.9 rpg) and stepped up her play at the end of the season. Frazee ended the year with four straight double-digit scoring efforts and was named to the Big South Championship all-tournament team. However, she is one of several Lady Flames battling various injuries as the 2008-09 season approaches.
"Molly is currently recovering from injury," said Green. "She was counted upon as a starter at the end of last season, and has the versatility to play both inside and outside. She led the post players, making 35 percent of her three-point attempts."
Frazee's injury could pave the way for increased playing time for 6-4 sophomore Kittery Maine, who played just 7.2 minutes per contest in 2007-08. The Georgia native was efficient when called upon, hitting 73.3 percent of her field goals. Her shooting ability is one of Maine's greatest strengths.
"Kittery is one of the best shooting post players I have ever coached," remarked Green. "She is also one of our most improved players and will be counted on as a major contributor in the post."
The aforementioned Warley redshirted her freshman season with the Lady Flames, but gained some valuable experience by participating in practice throughout the year. The 6-3, athletic post player from Washington, D.C., is expected to make an impact this season.
"Avery is a welcome addition to the team," stated Green. "She will be counted on to fulfill some definite needs in the post and will be an exciting surprise."
Rounding out the Liberty roster is 6-4 Kylee Beecher, another Virginia high school product. She hails from Roanoke and led her Hidden Valley High School squad to back-to-back state championships, as a junior and senior. The daughter of former Virginia Tech standout Bobby Beecher, she has grown up around the game and is a strong fundamental player around the basket.
"Kylee comes from a sports family and possesses exceptional fundamental skills, combined with a championship attitude," Green said. "She is one of the best passing post players I have ever coached and excels in pressure situations."
Liberty has 11 games scheduled versus teams which won 20 or more games during the 2007-08 campaign. The number could grow, depending on the Lady Flames' latter-round matchups in the Preseason WNIT, the GW Thanksgiving Classic and the Hokie Hardwood Classic.
The Lady Flames will tip off the 2008-09 season on Nov. 14, when Commonwealth foe VCU visits the Vines Center for a first-round Preseason WNIT tilt. The Rams went 26-8 and advanced to the second round of the WNIT in 2008.
Liberty, making its second Preseason WNIT appearance, and first since the 2003-04 season, is guaranteed at least three games. If the Lady Flames defeat VCU, they will meet the winner of the North Carolina/Western Carolina contest in the second round. If the Rams prevail, Liberty will play a pair of consolation contests in the 16-team tournament, which wraps up with the championship game on Nov. 23.
The Lady Flames will return to action the day after Thanksgiving with a trip to Washington, D.C., for the GW Thanksgiving Classic. Liberty's first-round opponent on Nov. 28 will be Hartford of the America East Conference. A new opponent on the Lady Flames' schedule this year, the Hawks have played in the NCAA Tournament three of the past four seasons.
Liberty will play in either the championship or consolation game the following day. Host team George Washington, which has made back-to-back NCAA Tournament "Sweet 16" appearances, and South Alabama, coming off a 20-11 season, are the Lady Flames' possible day two opponents.
The month of December opens with Liberty's first non-tournament game of the 2008-09 season, a Dec. 2 trip to James Madison. The Dukes went 24-10 last season and made it to the WNIT "Sweet 16."
Liberty plays its final two home games of 2008 in succession, on Dec. 7 and Dec. 13. The quick, two-game homestand includes SEC foe Auburn's first-ever visit to Lynchburg. The Tigers went 20-12 and competed in the 2008 NCAA Tournament.
Two weeks later, the Lady Flames will travel to Nashville, Tenn., for a Dec. 22 matinee versus perennial national power Vanderbilt. Last season, the Commodores posted 25 wins and reached the NCAA Tournament "Sweet 16."
On Dec. 29-30, the Lady Flames will participate in their third and final regular-season tournament of the season, Virginia Tech's Hokie Hardwood Classic. In the first round, Liberty will take on North Carolina A&T. The Aggies are coming off a 25-8 season which saw them reach the WNIT.
The next day, the Lady Flames will compete for either first or third place in the four-team tournament. Liberty will be matched up with either the host Hokies or Lafayette of the Patriot League.
Liberty opens the new year with its Big South opener, as Gardner-Webb invades the Vines Center on Jan. 3. The contest will be the Bulldogs' first-ever Big South Conference game and will be the first of 16 conference matchups for the Lady Flames, including two games each against new Big South foes Gardner-Webb and Presbyterian.
Liberty will be back home on Jan. 13 for its final non-conference outing of the season. Its opponent will be East Tennessee State, an Atlantic Sun squad coming off its first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament.
The Lady Flames will wrap up their 12-game home schedule with a Feb. 28 contest against UNC Asheville, which will serve as Liberty's "Senior Night," and a March 2 visit by Presbyterian.
Liberty's regular-season finale will be played at High Point, on March 9, and the Lady Flames will become quite familiar with High Point's Millis Athletic Center, as they return on March 13 for the start of the Big South Women's Basketball Championship. The Panthers will host the entire tournament, which continues through the March 15 championship tilt.
The winner of the Big South Championship will earn the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Championship, which begins with first-round contests on March 21 and 22.