Lady Flames begin final season in conference
With one final year in the ASUN conference, the women’s basketball team still has two boxes left to check: beat Florida Gulf Coast and receive the automatic bid to the 2023 NCAA tournament.
Anything less would fall short of what the veteran group of players hopes to achieve.
Last year’s squad suffered a shocking loss in the ASUN semifinals as Jacksonville State hoisted a shot at the buzzer to squash the Flames’ chances at an NCAA bid. Instead, the Flames’ consolation prize was a trip to the WNIT.
The Flames ran out of gas in the second round of the WNIT against Vanderbilt, ending their season at 28-5. The 28 wins tied the program record.
The disappointing ending is one the Flames are using to fuel their fire this season.
“God had a plan with making us go to the WNIT,” senior guard Dee Brown said. “It was a blessing in disguise, it added fuel to our fire. This year we know (to tell God) thank you for allowing us to go to WNIT, but we want bigger.”
A season ago, the Flames dominated defensively, finishing fifth in the nation in scoring defense. This year’s group expects the same but looks to add perimeter shooting to take the squad to the next level.
An expected piece of that offensive improvement will be the play of Kennedi Williams. The redshirt junior guard spent time in Lynchburg over the summer working with strength coach Will Graham to improve her speed and conditioning levels.
Fitness levels are an aspect the team is dialing in on to make sure it can make it through a full season and into the postseason healthy. According to Williams, fatigue plagued the Flames entering last year’s postseason.
“Our bodies were dead tired, mentally tired,” Williams said. “That taught us what we do now is important. If my body is tired now, I need to go recover, I need to sleep better. It teaches you a lot. I think it is going to pay off in the long run.”
Head Coach Carey Green enters his 22nd year as Liberty’s head coach with a veteran bunch of players. Green’s roster stands out with experience — eight players have been in the program for three or more years.
“It begins with the foundation, and that is the culture of the team,” Green said. “I feel like the culture and maturity are as good as we have ever had. They are exciting to come to work with.”
The Flames will be battle-tested this season, playing a difficult nonconference schedule that includes a trip to Columbia, South Carolina, to face the preseason top-ranked team and defending national champion South Carolina Gamecocks.
Before looking down the road, however, the Lady Flames will first worry about the Richmond Spiders as they tip off their season at Liberty Arena Nov. 7 at 3:30 p.m. The game will stream on ESPN+.
ELlmore is a sports reporter for the Liberty Champion. Follow him on Twitter