Ashley Rininger, the Lady Flames' leading scorer and rebounder, has been named Big South Player of the Week twice this season.
The following article first appeared in the second issue of Flames Illustrated, which was sold at the Vines Center between Dec. 3-17. Rininger and the Lady Flames will host Big South leader Campbell Saturday at 2 p.m. Oftentimes, opposites make a pretty good pair.
Take Ashley Rininger, for example.
Her end goal in life?
"I honestly just really want to help people," she gushed brightly. "I enjoy helping others and I want to be able to glorify God through helping as many people as I can."
And how does she plan on achieving that cheery, heartwarming end?
By pursuing a degree in criminal justice with the ultimate goal of becoming an FBI agent.
More surprisingly still, despite her sweet demeanor, one finds it isn't difficult to picture her as one.
Perhaps it's the extension of that sort of juxtaposition into her basketball play that makes resolving Rininger's apparent discrepancies atypically simple for Flames fans to resolve.
On the one hand, the forward is gentle and mild-mannered, laughing easily as she speaks and maintaining remarkable poise even in the most heated moments on the court. Her coaches refer to her as having a beautifully humble spirit; a description, upon talking with Rininger, that immediately fits.
On the other hand, she is among the most dominant post threats in the Big South Conference. A member of the Big South All-Freshman Team and runner-up in the voting for Big South Freshman of the Year in 2012-13, Rininger came off her redshirt season and onto the hardwood to have an immediate, significant impact for the Lady Flames.
Like sweet and salty go better together than apart, so her combination of seemingly opposite traits manifests itself into the impressive versatility that Rininger and the Lady Flames coaching staff alike cite as her greatest on-court strength.
"I would describe her style of play as very versatile," said assistant coach Alexis Sherard. "She's able to play on the perimeter a little bit, she runs the floor, and she obviously is a very good post-up player."
"Yeah, I'm definitely a post player," the 6-4 Rininger echoed. Then quickly added, "But I like to be able to shoot, be able to drive, and be able to do whatever needs to be done."
Her game reflects that desire. Last season, Rininger led the Lady Flames and finished seventh in the conference in blocks per game (1.2). She also completed the year third on the team in scoring (6.9 points per game) and rebounding (6.4 rebounds per game) and recorded three double-doubles by the season's end.
She spent the offseason fine-tuning and expanding her skill repertoire still more ("I worked a lot on ball-handling, actually," she relayed. "I worked with the guards quite frequently."), but plans to stick largely to the bread-and-butter post play.
"She's very crafty in the post," Sherard commented. "She has a good variety of moves, great IQ and as I said before, she's extremely versatile."
Rininger credits her flexibility on the block to the forwards she spent her first two years with on the Lady Flames roster. Former Liberty post players Avery Warley (now playing center for the WNBA's Chicago Sky) and Tolu Omotola (currently playing professionally in Israel) taught her how to have a low-post presence that make her aspirations for a crime-fighting career seem entirely natural.
"It was great to have that redshirt year to get experience and work underneath two such great post players," Rininger reiterated.
In fact, the most significant addition the varied athlete must make to her game this year is not necessarily a tangible skill, but assuming the team leadership role varied by those and other recently graduated post players as only a redshirt sophomore.
"It's different, it's very different. I'm just so used to having a bunch of players that are above me," Rininger admitted. "I definitely have to step up this year, but it's exciting and I'm looking forward to it."
"She's ready to take on that leadership role and step into being our go-to player in the post," Sherard noted.
In turn, Rininger has displayed confidence in a new crop of Lady Flames, exercising her new status as a team leader to encourage the teammates currently in the familiar place of finding their footing as college underclassmen.
"They've got a lot of potential and a lot of athleticism, so I really look forward to them catching on more and more," she stated, beaming with optimism about the new members of the Liberty women's basketball team's roster. "Right now, it's a learning process and they're just getting that experience under their belt."
Until they do, though, Flames fans can rest easy knowing that Rininger is there on the block, game in and game out, prepared to help her teammates in any number of ways, thanks to the dominant versatility that characterizes her game. The sweet traded for the salty, metaphorically speaking, Rininger's goals for the season as it marches on are straightforward and, the familiar look of collected determination she displays every time she steps on the court, absolute.
"I want to improve every day and continue to try and be leader on the team, both on and off the court," Rininger summarized. "We're a work in progress, but I'm excited to see where this team is headed and what this season is going to hold."
That's a combination Liberty fans can get behind. ------ Ryley Rush is a Liberty University junior and is a freelance writer for Liberty Athletics
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