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Flames Feature - When She Said, "I Do."

September 6, 2006
|  Lynchburg, Va.
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Liberty Lady Flames Team Captain Mandee Wheelock

Liberty Lady Flames Team Captain Mandee Wheelock

Less than three months ago, Liberty senior Mandee Wheelock said two words that changed her life. Those words, which each of us may say many times over the course of a typical day, normally don't mean a whole lot. But the affirmation found within them on this day in Wheelock's life would completely alter her lifestyle forever. Those words were "I do."

"Dustin and I had been dating for almost six years. He proposed to me on our fifth anniversary, and we were married this summer," says Wheelock, a 5-1 midfielder for the Liberty University women's soccer team.

The "Dustin" to which Wheelock is referring is Liberty senior Dustin Wheelock. The couple was wed on June 3 of this year before more than 200 guests, many of which were Mandee's coaches and teammates.

"We knew for years that we were right for each other, but we waited for God's timing to be right in both our lives," says Wheelock. "He's been so supportive of me and my soccer career from Day 1, and it's only been greater since we were married."

Support may not have come so easily or from all directions in the early stages of her Liberty playing career. The team struggled to sub-.500 seasons in both her freshman and sophomore seasons. But it was in Mandee's third year that the squad burst onto the scene, winning seven consecutive games to end the season. The team won its third Big South Conference championship since 2000 and made an NCAA Tournament appearance against nationally-ranked Virginia.

But in this new time of her life, it's the cause for change from rough times to good ones on the soccer pitch that Mandee also believes changed her life.

"Between my sophomore and junior seasons, we all – coaches and players – pulled together and decided it was time for a change," says Wheelock. "I truly believe the Lord brought us to that change. He brought us all more closely together, making us more of a family, refocusing us and redefining the goals of this team."

Most would not have predicted such a dramatic turnaround, but Wheelock says she could feel it early on.

"From the first practice of the preseason last year, you could tell our hearts had changed," recalls Wheelock. "We were playing so much more for the Lord and each other."

Even head coach James Price noticed the change, commenting after the team's 3-0 championship game victory over UNC Asheville, "The chemistry on this team is just amazing. It's great that they could win a championship."

Now, entering her final season in a Lady Flames' uniform, Wheelock knows the proverbial target on her team's back has only grown larger.

"Everywhere we've gone, there has always been a little bit of a target on our backs, because we're a Christian university," she says. "Now, it grows larger because of our success last season."

And it grows even larger now in the preseason. The Lady Flames were recently tabbed as the favorites to win a conference championship again in 2006 by the Big South's coaches and media relations directors, receiving 11 out of a possible 18 first-place votes and topping Coastal Carolina, the next highest vote-getter, by 21 points.

"For years, we wouldn't pay much attention to the preseason polls," says Wheelock. "When we were third or fourth in them, we purposely ignored them. Now that we're first, we have to do the same."

If nothing else, the expectations have only strengthened the resolve of the entire team in its preparation for the 2006 season.

"We had a great group of freshman join us this preseason, and all of the returners came back so ready," says Wheelock excitedly. "Our preseason was very different from any of my previous ones because we came back in such great shape. We were able to focus much more on our tactics and less on fitness because we all came back in such good shape."

It would seem the only remaining question left on the Lady Flames' docket is if they believe they can defend last year's championship by winning another in 2006. And while the answer may not be quite as life-changing as the last time she happily recited the words, there may yet still be just as much truth in them.

"I do," says the newlywed. "We all believe in our ability to defend the title this year. And that makes us all the more prepared to go out and do it."

By Josh Keys
Liberty University Athletic Media Relations Student Assistant - Women's Soccer