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LU Women's Hoops Tabbed BSC's No. 1 Moment
The Liberty women's basketball team's string of 10 consecutive Big South Conference titles between 1997-2006, highlighted by the Lady Flames' "Sweet 16" appearance in 2005, has been voted the No. 1 moment in the Big South's first 25 years of existence. Tonight, the conference unveiled the Top 10 "Best of the Best" moments in Big South history, a list which features four Liberty achievements, as part of its concluding 25th Anniversary banquet at McBryde Hall on Winthrop's campus.
The Lady Flames' title run was the top vote-getter among the conference's eight-member 25th Anniversary Committee and online fan voting, receiving 209 out of a possible 225 points. More than 3,800 votes were cast by fans online at www.BigSouthSports.com.
Liberty's other representatives on the Top 10 "Best of the Best" list include individual standouts Katie Feenstra (women's basketball) at No. 5 and Josh McDougal (men's cross country/track & field) at No. 6. The Flames' track & field program and 2002 NCAA mile national champion Heather Sagan check in at No. 8.
Faces changed but the results remained the same for the Lady Flames, between the 1996-97 and 2005-06 women's basketball seasons. After Liberty knocked off UNC Greensboro, 89-82, on March 1, 1997 for the program's first-ever Big South Conference title, the Lady Flames proceeded to win an unprecedented 10 consecutive conference crowns. During the "Decade of Excellence," Liberty went 237-69 overall, 121-13 in Big South contests and 28-0 in the Big South Championship.
The defining moment of the Lady Flames' championship dynasty came in 2004-05, when Liberty became the second No. 13 seed ever to reach the "Sweet 16" of the NCAA Tournament. The Lady Flames defeated No. 4 seed Penn State (78-70) and No. 5 seed DePaul (88-79) to mark the best NCAA Tournament run in school history. Liberty ended the year ranked No. 21 nationally.
Two different head coaches combined to lead the Lady Flames through the 10-year championship run. Rick Reeves coached Liberty's first three Big South title-winning teams, guiding the Lady Flames to the only undefeated regular season in program history in 1997-98. Carey Green took the helm prior to the 1999-2000 campaign and earned a trio of Big South Coach of the Year certificates during Liberty's next seven championship seasons.
Individual standouts for the Lady Flames included Feenstra, Elena Kisseleva and twin sisters Sarah and Sharon Wilkerson. Feenstra, who graduated as the leading rebounder in program history (1,033) in 2005, was a two-time honorable mention AP All-American and a three-time Big South Player of the Year. Meanwhile, Kisseleva and the Wilkerson sisters starred on Liberty's first four Big South championship squads. Kisseleva is the leading scorer in Liberty and Big South history (2,154 points), while Sarah and Sharon Wilkerson also rank among the program's top five all-time leading scorers.
Feenstra, who led the nation in field goal percentage in both 2003-04 (.657) and 2004-05 (.671), became the highest draft pick in Liberty history when she was selected by the Connecticut Sun with the No. 8 overall selection in the 2005 WNBA Draft. Feenstra, who was a unanimous WNBA All-Rookie Team pick in 2005, is entering her fifth season in the league. She has also been a member of the USA Basketball Women's National Team.
McDougal, now serving as a graduate assistant on the Liberty track & field/cross country coaching staff, graduated in 2008 as the most highly decorated student-athlete in school history. A 14-time All-American, McDougal's crowning achievement came at the 2007 NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships. He edged Oregon's Galen Rupp at the finish line to become the Liberty's second-ever NCAA Division I national champion. McDougal became the first three-time winner of the Big South Conference Howard Bagwell Male Athlete of the Year award and the first four-time Big South Male Track & Field Athlete of the Year honoree.
Sagan was Liberty's initial NCAA Division I national champion, as the senior ran to victory in the mile at the 2002 NCAA Division I Indoor Track & Field Championships. Sagan is one of 12 Flames to earn All-America distinction since track & field became an official Big South sport in 1994. Head coach Brant Tolsma, a 40-time Big South Coach of the Year, has coached the Flames and Lady Flames to 44 of the 56 Big South track & field team championships ever awarded. The Liberty men's indoor track & field squad has never lost at the Big South meet, and the Flames' string of 12 straight conference crowns is the longest in Big South history, in any sport.
Big South Conference's Top 10 "Best of the Best" Moments
1) 1997-2006 Liberty Women's Basketball
2) 2006-07 Winthrop Men's Basketball
3) 2003 Coastal Carolina Men's Soccer and Joseph Ngwenya
4) 1986-1996 Radford Women's Basketball
5) Katie Feenstra, Liberty Women's Basketball
6) Josh McDougal, Liberty Men's Cross Country/Track & Field
7) Coastal Carolina Baseball
8) Liberty's Track & Field Program and Heather Sagan
9) 2002-03 UNC Asheville Men's Basketball
10) Martin Sayer, Radford Men's Tennis