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Consistency in the Midst of Change
The following article was first featured in the January/February edition of Flames Illustrated. Avery Warley, the reigning Big South Player of the Week, has helped the Lady Flames win seven games in a row. Big South-leading Liberty returns to action Saturday, with a trip to second-place Radford. Tipoff is set for 3 p.m. at the Dedmon Center.
To say that Liberty University's landscape has changed considerably since Avery Warley first arrived in Lynchburg during the fall of 2007 would be an understatement. Snowflex, the new bookstore and the expanded Williams Stadium have all drastically altered the aesthetic look of campus in recent years. However, Warley's imposing presence inside the painted areas on the Vines Center court has been a constant.
Now a redshirt junior, Warley has started every game for the Lady Flames since first donning a Liberty uniform at the start of the 2008-09 season. She has provided consistent production in the areas of scoring, rebounding and shot blocking, and already ranks among Liberty's all-time leaders in all three categories.
"Avery provides an expected performance as a dominating post player with a special emphasis on controlling the inside and rebounding at a level of excellence," noted head coach Carey Green.
Rebounding has certainly been Warley's calling card, and she helped the Lady Flames lead the nation in rebound margin during the 2009-10 season. She has also been at her best in some of Liberty's biggest games.
Warley's 18 rebounds on Dec. 30, 2008 contributed to Liberty's first-ever defeat of Virginia Tech. Later that season, she had 17 boards in the Big South Championship title game against Gardner-Webb. Warley then led all players with 14 caroms against Kentucky, helping the Lady Flames nearly upset the Wildcats in the first round of the 2010 NCAA Tournament.
Most importantly, though, the Washington, D.C. native has played an important role in continuing the Lady Flames' tradition of excellence. Liberty has won nearly 75 percent of its games over the last three seasons, and Warley has played for two Big South Championship-winning teams.
Although her on-court contributions have been consistent, many things have changed around Warley since she joined the Lady Flames. During the 2008-09 campaign, she started as a freshman, alongside three seniors and a junior. Two years later, she is the lone upperclassman in the starting lineup, flanked by a freshman and three sophomores.
"I'm seeing a different aspect of leadership this season," Warley observed. "I am now one of the most experienced players on the team, and I find myself talking more. I can see different things happening out on the court, so I try to be more vocal and help my teammates."
At times this year, Warley has sounded like an extra coach when she is on the bench, taking a breather. However, she insisted, "Coaching has never been a desire of mine. I'd rather play the game than coach."
Green has also seen Warley become more of a leader during her time at Liberty. "She is continuing to develop a role of ownership and leadership on this team," he explained. "Avery also leads through her example of intensity and effort."
Warley has also seen herself grow and develop off the court during her years at Liberty. "I have grown as a person and now see basketball in a different way," stated Warley. "It used to be just a fun game to play. Now, I have come to realize the importance of using the gifts God has given me to glorify Him.
"I grew up in a Christian home, but I have really gotten to know Christ here at Liberty and truly develop a relationship with Him for the first time. Our trip to Israel this past summer was a life-changing experience. Seeing where Jesus walked really made the Bible come alive for me."
Green has witnessed a change in Warley as well, and expressed, "My greatest joy is seeing my players develop as people, growing in character and values. Avery has become a solid young woman who will have an impact on society. She has learned how to learn and values her education."
Warley, who is majoring in psychology, hopes a professional basketball career is in her future, after wrapping up her time as a Lady Flame. However, she is also preparing herself for a career in the field of social work, after her playing days are finished.
Warley and her teammates still have some unfinished business, though, to borrow a phrase from the Liberty football team. The Lady Flames' tight loss against Kentucky in the 2010 NCAA Tournament has left the squad longing for another opportunity at an NCAA Tournament victory.
A first-team All-Big South performer last season, Warley has kept working to improve her game. "I have really been concentrating on making my free throws and making teams have to pay for fouling me," she stated. "I have also been working on shooting jump shots out to about 15 feet, giving opponents something else to think about."
To illustrate Warley's improvement at the foul line, she shot 52 percent as a freshman and 56 percent as a sophomore, before pushing to well over 60 percent for most of her junior season to date.
"Avery has gained more confidence," Green added. "She better understands her role on the team, as well as the impact she has on our success. She has improved her free throw shooting and overall skill set, after arriving on our team as a raw athlete."
With all of the changes taking place around Liberty University's campus, the consistent, steady contributions of Avery Warley may lead to even more revisions. If she continues her development and progression as a basketball player and leader, several more Big South Conference and NCAA Tournament banners could soon be added to the Vines Center rafters.
Paul Carmany is an assistant athletic communications director for Liberty University, who covers women's basketball.