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Fulfilling the Mission
The following article first appeared in issue No. 5 of the Flames Illustrated game program for the 2011-12 basketball season, which was available at the Vines Center between Feb. 14-March 2. Avery Warley and the Lady Flames won the Big South Conference regular-season title and will enter the Big South Women's Basketball Championship as the No. 1 seed. The tournament will be contested Friday through Sunday at the Millis Center in High Point, N.C.
"To develop women of excellence who glorify God through success both in basketball and in life."
As the mission of the Liberty women's basketball program, this statement is centered on developing student-athletes not only on the court, but also in the classroom and in life. While there are different levels of success stories which characterize the statement, the program may not need to look any further than current redshirt senior Avery Warley as the epitome.
Warley has risen above the odds throughout her development at Liberty, in ways beyond just her skill as an athlete. While her perseverance and determined work ethic as a basketball player is evident in her extensive list of accolades, her time at Liberty has also pushed her to excel in other areas, just as the mission statement expresses.
Liberty Head Coach Carey Green is quick to reference the foundation for the program's creed, which comes from scripture. Luke 2:52 states, "And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man."
"That's really addressing four areas," pointed out Green. "Avery has come in here and we've addressed those areas in her life. We feel like our program is a complete program, it's a whole program. We're concerned with wins, but if we're really on target with what God wants us to do in life, then we're going to address all four of those areas."
Warley admits that finding herself at Liberty to begin with wasn't a decision made on her own accord.
"It was a difficult road. Liberty wasn't my first option, but the Lord made the way," Warley reminisced. "I got hurt and a lot of people dropped off, but Coach Green stayed with me through the process. He cared about me more as a person, so that's what drew me to Liberty."
After Warley recovered health-wise and achieved all of the NCAA's eligibility requirements, the 6-3 center made her debut as a redshirt freshman on Nov. 14, 2008, chalking up seven points and four rebounds against VCU.
It's doubtful that anyone could have envisioned what has transpired over Warley's ensuing years, as she has climbed numerous Liberty career listings and attained program records in others. Serving as a starter in every one of her collegiate games to this point, Warley holds the program record for games started in a career and consecutive games started, with both streaks standing at 120 through the Lady Flames' win at Campbell on Feb. 4.
Warley's most prolific statistical category has been rebounding though, as she has rewritten the all-time lists in both Liberty and the Big South's annals. With her 1,034th rebound on Jan. 7 against High Point, the Washington, D.C., native became Liberty's all-time leading rebounder, replacing Katie Feenstra atop the listing. Just a month later, on Feb. 4, Warley cleared the Big South mark of 1,127 rebounds—formerly held by Charleston Southern's Kate Sanford—and completed the contest against Campbell with 1,130 career caroms.
However, the most telling statistic which depicts Warley's persistence to improve is her free throw percentage. Warley shot at a 52 and 56 percent clip during her first and second years, before making a drastic improvement to 63 percent during her junior season. During her final year, Warley has shot over 70 percent from the line to make her one of the team's top threats from the charity stripe.
"Every player has room for improvement," Warley remarked. "A lot has been focused on my free throws, to make players pay for fouling me. Just having other options to score has been my emphasis."
Warley's enhancements and accolades in the realm of basketball—all the way up to representing her country as a part of Team USA at the 2011 Pan American Games—surely shows where she has improved in stature, but even those accolades don't take away from her growing in the other three areas which the scripture from Luke points to.
"She has no doubt addressed the growing in knowledge part as well," Green emphasized as he referenced Warley attaining her bachelor's degree last May. "Now she's taking graduate courses. In itself, that's a strong statement."
Pairing with Warley's success in the classroom has been her development outside of just the basketball program.
"Socially, she has become involved outside of our small circle," noted Green. "She's worked at the Liberty Godparent Home as her internship, being involved in health promotion and service."
While Warley certainly has aspirations of playing professional basketball, she is also keeping other careers in mind which will match her education and experience.
"I'm getting my master's degree right now in counseling," Warley stated proudly. "I'm just not sure who I want to work with right now. I love to see what people are thinking and why they do what they do. It fascinates me."
Warley may be intrigued with how others reason their actions, but while she has been at Liberty, her own choices have developed according to her relationship with Christ.
"My relationship with Christ has grown tremendously," Warley explained. "Liberty has taught me how important my relationship with Christ is, along with being a better person overall."
Green can also notice Warley's development from a spiritual standpoint, saying, "Her heart is now directed through following what God wants her to do in her life. That's given her the foundation to be the best person she possibly can be as a basketball player and off the court as well. I'm so proud of her in that area, because that gives her the foundation to face anything and everything that she's going to run into in life."
As the Lady Flames near the home stretch of the 2011-12 season, the end goal of a Big South championship is getting closer in the radar and would almost be a storybook ending for Warley's career.
"This is a young team that I think would like to see that for me. It would be the icing on the cake for my senior season," Warley concluded, grinning from ear to ear.
Whether or not Warley will play a part in a third Big South championship in four years is yet to be determined, but the impact of the Liberty's women's basketball program has already made its lifelong mark.
"I've seen somebody who has overcome some huge obstacles to become successful," Green concluded. "This environment helped her do that and I'm so proud of her and her accomplishments athletically, academically, and most of all just to see how she has grown in Christ. I know Avery is going to impact the world for Christ."
Tim Hartin is an athletics communications graduate assistant for Liberty Athletics.