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The Liberty girls hoops team has been called many things over the years.
It's been a long time, though, since they've been described as dominant.
But that's just what the Minettes were in their 62-15 pasting of visiting E.C. Glass last Thursday evening: Dominant.
Granted, the Hilltoppers don't present the most challenging of foes. Yet, for a team that hasn't had a lot of success in the past decade, the Minettes had all the look of a contender.
The fact that Liberty's overall record improved to 9-3 is certainly reflective.
The most impressive aspect of the win might be selected from a wide number of possibilities:
-A Minette defense that allowed only three Glaziers.
-An oppressive style of play that kept the Toppers off the scoreboard for the game's first five and a half minutes. The Minettes also kept Glass scoreless for the entire fourth quarter.
-A tough inside game by the likes of McKenzie Tibbs (14 points), Nicole Smith (nine) and Jocelyn Thomas (seven).
-Lightning-quick hands that picked the Glass pockets all night long. Leading the thievery were Thomas and Kasey Carr, with six steals apiece. Mikalah Jones added five.
Our selection for the most impressive aspect, however, isn't reflected in the stats sheets. What we liked was how every one of the eight Minettes contributed in a meaningful way, often in unexpected ways.
Take Thomas, for instance. She's typically more valued for her play in the paint. Yet, toward the end of the game, she deftly robbed the Glass point guard, nabbing successive steals and getting a nice rise from the crowd.
Freshman Lauren Morgan, who is become noted for her precise outside shooting, also displayed a fierce defensive posture, particularly on the press.
Taylor Spradlin, who along with Smith, Tibbs and Thomas brings muscle to the mix, showed good ball movement, to boot.
Carr and Sammy Baldwin were like dervishes.
Every one of the eight put up some points. Every one of them showed hustle and good communications.
In short, this group looked every bit like a team. Better yet, it had the look of a team that is comfortable winning ball games.
Head Coach Mike Jones attributes the newly-found team chemistry to his charges' highly successful trip to the Blacksburg Invitational last week (where Liberty went 2-0).
"These girls aren't selfish," observed Jones, of his crew. "Our focus is on defense."
Certainly, limiting Glass to 15 points is a nice outcome in the defense department. It should be noted, too, that the Hilltoppers are a much- improved team from the start of the season. Even if they scoreboard doesn't reflect it, the Glaziers are much better in basketball fundamentals.
"I'd tell (the E.C. Glass players) to keep their heads up," said Jones. "We've been there."
Indeed, the Minettes have. But, with a roster that doesn't include a single senior, it's hard to imagine them going back any time soon.
If you want to jump on this bandwagon, now's your chance.
In Staunton River action
Staunton River's Lady Eagles started the new year by taking on one of the top teams in the region.
Alas, the Riverladies fell to Heritage, 64-45. Last year's Seminole District Player of the Year Cameron Carter posted 21 points in leading the Pioneers.
Brie Holdren put up 15 points for Staunton River. The Eagle cause was also helped by the Cawley sisters (Britney and Whitney) who combined for 14 points.
That loss dropped Staunton River to 1-10. But, the Golden Eagles showed resilience two nights later. After taking a long ride to Rockbridge, the Riverwomen put together their best game of the season, topping the Wildcats, 65-57.
In the early going, it seemed as though this one would be a runaway: for Rockbridge. Behind the sharpshooting of Keeley Fresh, the Wildcats raced out to a 9-0 lead.
River Head Coach Kim Jones was quick to call a time out to regroup. That strategy worked as the Eagles executed their press breaker to perfection. Additionally, Jones sicced Keara Brown and Lauren Greene on Fresh. The duo, alternating in their pestering of Fresh kept her scoreless until the fourth quarter.
"It was a total team effort," said Jones. "(My players) didn't hang their heads or give up when we started the game so badly. Hopefully, this will give the girls good confidence as we begin our battle in the Blue Ridge."
Indeed, the Eagle offense, which has been sporadic this season, ran well against Rockbridge. In fact, the Eagles scored 20 or more points in the second and fourth quarters.
The balanced attack was led by Holdren, playing in only her fourth game since injuring her shoulder.
The senior put up 15 points, including a pair of treys. The Stephens sisters, Sydney and Asia, combined for 20 points. The other pair of sisters, Britney and Whitney Cawley, teamed up for 17 points.
Brown, playing without a sister on the team, chipped in five points to go with her stellar defense.
The Lady Eagles, who were picked to finish in last place in the Blue Ridge by a local daily paper, seem to be playing to prove 'em wrong. Anyway, they now stand 1-0 in their district.
JF's big comeback
What's the difference between a losing record and a winning one?
In Jefferson Forests case it has to do with determination and grit.
The Lady Cavs showed plenty of those traits in topping Amherst, 46-44. The win improved Forest's district record to 2-1, keeping them well in the hunt for a Seminole crown and hot on the heels of co-leaders Brookville and Heritage. By the way, JF played Heritage Tuesday night, after press time for this newspaper.
The Amherst game seemed like a losing campaign. The Lady Cavs and Lancers went at it tooth-and-nail for the first three quarters of play, with the (slight) lead changing several times
Toward the end of the third stanza, however, Amherst began to pull away.
Early in the fourth quarter the Lancers opened up a nine-point lead.
It was then that Jeff Forest went on a 17-0 run that left the Amherst crew wondering, "Where did that come from?"
Kassie Hoag and Katie Cousins came up with 14 of those points during the run.
Certainly helping the Lady Cav cause was the 35 trips they made to the free throw line. They converted on 25 of their attempts.
Head Coach Paul Redgate also cited his team's willingness to attack the hoop, particularly in the second half, even if their shooting was less than perfect.
"I was very proud of my team and thought they showed their character well," said Redgate. "That even though we did not shoot the ball well, we still came together to pull out a victory."
Erin McKeague and Cassidy Ratliff led the way for JF with 10 points each. Hoag had nine, while Cousins had seven.
Amber Evans scored six to go along with her 10 rebounds.
On Friday, all three teams will be in action. Liberty will host Amherst in a game that should be a good test for the Minettes.
Jefferson Forest hosts Rustburg in what should be a test of whether the Lady Cavs can keep their foot on the gas pedal.
Staunton River is on the road, heading to Lord Botetourt, one of the favorites to win the Blue Ridge.
Circle Monday, Jan. 14 on your calendar. That's because the Seminole's best will be heading to town. Brookville visits Jefferson Forest while Heritage heads to Liberty.