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The Rewards of Patience

February 14, 2009
|  Lynchburg, Va.
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Avery Warley smiled from ear to ear when she was introduced in the Lady Flames' starting lineup, prior to the 2008-09 season opener versus VCU.

Avery Warley smiled from ear to ear when she was introduced in the Lady Flames' starting lineup, prior to the 2008-09 season opener versus VCU.

Regardless of the team or the sport involved, the season-opening contest is always highly anticipated by players, coaches and fans alike. Hope abounds, as every team begins a new year with a clean slate and a list of goals and aspirations. The 2008-09 lid-lifter for the Liberty women's basketball team was no exception, but the Nov. 14, 2008, Preseason WNIT tilt against VCU was especially notable for redshirt freshman post player Avery Warley. She had been waiting more than two years for referee Jennifer Rezac to toss the ball into the air and officially commence her Liberty basketball career.

Warley, a 6-3, athletic post presence, had been recruited by Liberty head coach Carey Green and his staff to join the team for the 2006-07 season. However, the graduate of H.D. Woodson High School in Washington, D.C., was forced to wait two years to join her new teammates on the floor, as she worked toward achieving all of the NCAA's eligibility requirements.

It was a long and trying process for Warley, but things eventually worked out for her to make a long-awaited Liberty debut this season. "God helped me keep my faith and be patient through the whole process," acknowledged Warley. "He has a plan for my life and has helped me take things one day at a time."

Warley also credits Academic Coordinator Jeni Coleman and the remainder of Associate Athletics Director for Academic Affairs Kristie Beitz's staff, as well as her coaches and teammates, for their invaluable assistance, encouragement and support.

Even though the last two years have often been frustrating and trying, Warley believes she has benefitted from the experience, in retrospect. "Personally, I was able to learn a tremendous amount of patience," Warley explained. "As a player, I have realized that I'm only playing for one person, God. It's not all about me. So, I'm just having fun and not putting so much pressure on myself."

Warley wears No. 23 on her Liberty uniform in tribute to her favorite basketball player, Michael Jordan. Like Warley, Jordan dealt with a bit of adversity at the outset of his basketball career, when he was cut from the Laney High School varsity team as a freshman. Jordan used his setback as a form of motivation, and the rest is history.

Warley admires Jordan's game for many reasons. "He was an awesome player in every aspect of the game," noted Warley. "He was very competitive and hard-working, often spending extra time in the gym. He possessed the motivation to be the very best he could be."

Although Warley is not a prolific scorer like Jordan at this point in her career, her contributions in the areas of rebounding and shot blocking have been no less valuable for the Lady Flames this season. One of the Big South's leaders in both categories, a big smile comes to Warley's face when describing rebounding and blocking shots as her favorite aspects of basketball.

Nowhere was her rebounding ability more evident than during the Hokie Hardwood Classic championship game, on Dec. 30, at Cassell Coliseum. Warley collected 18 rebounds, including 10 on the offensive glass, leading the Lady Flames to their first-ever victory over the host team, Virginia Tech. Warley's performance not only garnered a spot on the all-tournament team, but it also impressed Hokies head coach Beth Dunkenberger.

During the postgame press conference, Dunkenberger remarked that Warley "gave a rebounding clinic" against her team.

Warley's effort against Virginia Tech was not an isolated incident for the Lady Flames' newcomer. Just 11 days later, Warley's rebound and putback during the final minute of play put the Lady Flames ahead for good in an important come-from-behind conference victory at Winthrop.

Warley's exceptional rebounding ability has come along at just the right time for a Liberty women's basketball team which has battled numerous injuries this season. Strong rebounding has been a staple of Carey Green-coached teams, and this year's squad ranks among the nation's top rebounding teams, in spite of injuries to some of its top rebounders.

Warley has certainly made an immediate impact for the Lady Flames, but nothing she has accomplished so far has topped the experience of her debut against VCU. "It was everything I thought it would be, and the fact I was in the starting lineup was a plus," noted Warley. "The atmosphere was awesome. Everything was just perfect."

Despite having to battle against VCU's talented 6-5 post player, Quanitra Hollingsworth, during her first game in the last three seasons, Warley held her own during her Liberty debut. The redshirt freshman totaled seven points and four rebounds, while making a clutch go-ahead free throw with only 6.4 seconds remaining.

Warley cites the VCU contest as the best part of her Liberty experience so far, along with the camaraderie she has enjoyed with her Lady Flame teammates. "I have really enjoyed spending time with my teammates," stated Warley. "I'm with these girls all the time and have gotten to know them as people. That is something I had never done before on my previous teams."

Several of Warley's teammates have recently returned from injuries, and she is excited to see what the Lady Flames can accomplish the rest of the season. "We can do whatever we put our minds to," Warley observed. "We just need to play our hardest and give our all every game. We also need to remind ourselves that we're playing for one person, and He will always love us, regardless of the final score."

It has been said that the best things in life are worth waiting for, and Warley would certainly agree. She had to wait a long two years to finally begin her collegiate basketball career with the Liberty Lady Flames, but she was able to learn some important lessons in the meantime. Moreover, she was able to join the Lady Flames exactly when the team needed her rebounding and defense the most. Due to Warley's contributions, the end result of the 2008-09 Liberty women's basketball season may prove to be even more exciting and memorable than the long-awaited season opener was for her.

Paul Carmany is an assistant athletics communications director for Liberty University who has covered women's basketball for three seasons.