In conjunction with the Big South's year-long initiative, LibertyFlames.com will celebrate the 40th anniversary of Title IX through a series of stories and videos which spotlight each of Liberty's women's athletics teams, one per month throughout the 2012-13 academic year. This month, the spotlight will be on the women's basketball team.
The first female athletics team to be established at Liberty, the women's basketball program has been one of the most successful teams on campus during its 38 years of competition. Under head coach Brenda Bonheim, the program got off to a fast start during its inaugural season, 1975-76. Liberty posted a 76-52 win in its first game, against Randolph-Macon Woman's College, as part of a 7-1 season.
Linda Farver was the program's first long-tenured head coach, guiding the team for nine seasons (1977-78 through 1985-86). She coached two of the team's first standout players, Liberty Athletics Hall of Famer Sharon Snodgrass and Brenda Gunsallus. Snodgrass (1979-82) was the program's first player to finish with over 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds, while it took Gunsallus just two seasons (1980-81) to reach the 1,000-point mark.
The Lady Flames' first NCAA Division I season was 1988-89, and the team finished 11-14 under head coach Mike Goad. The team experienced only one winning season (16-12 in 1992-93) before things changed in a major way in 1996-97.
Head coach Rick Reeves' squad had finished just 5-22 in 1995-96, but freshmen Elena Kisseleva, Sarah Wilkerson and Sharon Wilkerson helped spark a complete turnaround. The 1996-97 Lady Flames went 22-8 and defeated UNC Greensboro for their first Big South Conference title. Liberty then made its NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Championship debut, facing Old Dominion in the first round.
The next season, Liberty completed the only undefeated regular-season in program and Big South women's basketball history, taking a 28-0 record into its NCAA Tournament matchup with Tennessee.
Carey Green replaced Reeves as head coach prior to the 1999-2000 season, but the championship streak continued. In total, the Lady Flames captured an unprecedented 10 consecutive Big South titles. The team's championship streak was voted the best moment of the first 25 years of the Big South Conference in 2009.
The most memorable season during that span was undoubtedly the 2004-05 campaign. A senior-laden team led by Katie Feenstra defeated Penn State and DePaul in its first two NCAA Tournament tilts, earning a spot in the "Sweet 16."
Feenstra was drafted by the Connecticut Sun at season's end, becoming the first Lady Flame to play in the WNBA. She has since been joined in the league by Liberty alumni Megan Frazee and Avery Warley. The latter pair has helped lead Liberty to four Big South championships in the last five years, giving the Lady Flames 14 total Big South crowns.
Years of Competition: 38 (1975-76-Present) Total Wins: 603 Conference Championships: 14 (Big South: 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012)
Top Honors • CoSIDA Academic All-District: 13 • CoSIDA Academic All-Americans: 3 • All-Americans: 3 • State Players of the Year: 3 • Big South Players of the Year: 8 • Big South All-Conference Players: 39
Total Number of Participants: 201
Title IX Anniversary – Top Liberty Women's Basketball Moments Unknown date during 1975-76 basketball season – Liberty Plays its First Women's Athletics Event The Liberty women's basketball team traveled across town to face Randolph-Macon Woman's College for the first game in program history and the first women's athletics event in school history. The Lady Flames recorded a 76-52 victory.
March 1, 1997 – Liberty Women's Basketball Claims its First Big South Title Playing in front of a then-record crowd of 2,319 at the Vines Center, the Liberty women's basketball team won its first-ever Big South Championship title with an 89-82 victory over UNC Greensboro. The triumph began a streak of 10 straight Big South crowns for the Lady Flames.
March 14, 1998 – Undefeated Teams Square off in NCAA Tournament In 1997-98, the Liberty women's basketball team completed the only undefeated regular season in program history and then entered the NCAA Tournament with a 28-0 record. In the first round, the Lady Flames were matched up against another undefeated team, Tennessee. The host Lady Vols posted a 102-58 victory on their way to the NCAA national title.
Nov. 26, 2002 – Liberty Takes Down No. 23 Virginia Thanks in large part to a late, game-tying three-pointer by Kristal Tharp, the Liberty women's basketball team defeated No. 23 Virginia, 77-69 in overtime at the Vines Center. It was the first of four victories the Lady Flames have recorded against Top 25 opponents in program history.
March 22, 2005 – Lady Flames Reach NCAA Sweet 16 The Liberty women's basketball team posted an 88-79 victory over DePaul at the Comcast Center in College Park, Md., advancing to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. Two days earlier, the Lady Flames had recorded their first-ever NCAA Tournament victory, a 78-70 win against Penn State.
March 11, 2006 – Liberty Captures 10th Straight Big South Title The Liberty women's basketball team edged High Point by a 53-50 count in the Big South Championship title tilt at the Vines Center. With the triumph, the Lady Flames earned their unprecedented 10th consecutive Big South title. In 2009, Liberty's run of 10 straight Big South championships was named the No. 1 moment in the Big South Conference's first 25 years of existence. Previous Liberty Athletics Title IX Features September - Volleyball October - Women's Soccer November - Field Hockey December - Cross Country/Track & Field January - Swimming
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