The Liberty women’s basketball team has displayed sustained winning over the entirety of Carey Green’s tenure as the head coach since 1999, and this season was no exception. After starting off the year 3-5 through 8 games, the Flames went 21-4 for the rest of the season (14-1 at home), establishing themselves as a formidable program against any team they matched up with.
The season was filled with great moments, achievements, and high level basketball. There are many things that could be highlighted from this season but these are just a few that stood out.
Ever since Carey Green was named the head coach in 1999, the Flames have won 10+ conference games in each season. This is the 24th straight year for the streak and this sustained success shows just how much of a culture has been built into this Liberty women’s program, a culture of which the results span decades. Having such infrastructure gives this program a backbone of excellence that can only be achieved through much time and effort being put in over the long run. The continuity brought on by this coaching staff is an invaluable asset to the development of these girls and this team as a whole.
Mya Berkman’s Paint Dominance
Berkman made the most of her last year of college basketball, leading the team in scoring for the second straight season and leading the whole country in field goal percentage with 69.5%, a mark showing her reliability as a low post player and efficiency on the inside. This number is also the best field goal percentage by a Liberty women’s player in school history.
She has gotten better every season at Liberty, and her combination of strength, footwork, and touch around the basket helped her carry a large part of the offense. She scored a career high 26 points against Minnesota in November in one of many games where she led the team in the offensive push.
Her presence down low will be missed next year as her gravity in the middle of the floor brought a lot to this team. When she got in a rhythm down low, there were few who could stop her from getting quality shots at the basket. She was selected to the ASUN All-Conference First team for the second straight year and ends her career as a highly decorated player for the Flames, her spot in Liberty basketball history secure after capping it off with another high level season.
The Leap of Kennedi Williams
Senior point guard Kennedi Williams took a huge step in development as she flourished in her role as the lead ball handler for the Flames. Defenders were crossed, faked, and blown by as Williams showed a real confidence and high level of processing each and every game.
Her role as a leader was evident as she was never silent during games, always communicating with teammates on offense and defense in addition to being a very vocal supporter during her bench minutes. Statistically, she improved significantly in every category, including scoring (4.9 points per game to 7.6), efficiency (43.8% field goal percentage to 53.3%), turnovers (2.1 down to 1.5), and steals (0.8 to 1.4).
Her true impact on the game was how she made her presence felt, getting to the rim with consistency whenever she felt the offense start to stagnate. On these drives she often found open teammates or finished tough layups with finesse. Her IQ and aggressiveness made her into a player that was an engine within this offense, doing whatever was needed of her in any given moment.
FGCU Home Win
Speaking of Kennedi Williams, we can’t mention her season without talking about the dramatic win against FGCU at Liberty Arena on January 21st. Williams kept Liberty in this game for several stretches as she scored 24 points (9 for 14), had 6 assists to only 1 turnover, had 1 steal and 1 block.
She took control of the game from the jump. Regulation ended with a dramatic three off the dribble from Emma Hess that caused Liberty Arena to erupt as overtime became imminent. Mya Berkman contributed a very efficient 18 points while freshman Pien Steenbergen brought some firepower off the bench with 11 points (3 for 3 from deep).
Overall it was a statement win that showed off the grit and talent of the Liberty roster and coaching staff. Liberty had never previously beaten FGCU so the emotions were riding high as the Flames toppled the Eagles for the first time.
Emma Hess’s Development
The only underclassmen member of the starting five, sophomore Emma Hess settled further into her role as a cornerstone for this Liberty team in her second year. As her opportunities increased, so did her production, displaying her skillset even further with jumpers off the dribble and slick playmaking when given space to work.
On 18 threes attempted off the dribble, she converted 50% of them and was in the 91st percentile for dribble jumpers (90th percentile on jumpers overall). In an away game at Lipscomb, she dropped a career high 28 points on 60% shooting, 7-12 from 3. With much of her role being a spot up shooter, she flashed the potential to do even more on offense as she continues at Liberty.
Her shot making, handling, and feel for the game was an exciting thing to watch, even more exciting knowing she has multiple years of eligibility left. She has the talent to score at a very high level if her team needs her to do so.
Young Talent Ready to Run it Back
This talented Flames squad will definitely miss some key departing pieces as they prepare for the next season, but the returning players that will likely take on similar or bigger roles next season have shown they can succeed at a very high level.
As previously mentioned, Emma Hess will, in all likelihood, continue her hot shooting and pose a threat from every area of the court. Center Bella Smuda, though she did not start, was 4th on the team in scoring (7.9 ppg) despite being 9th on the team in minutes played (15.1 minutes per game). Her impact is felt on the court whenever she checks in, whether it be on the block or racking up the blocks (she led the team in blocks with 50, 1.52 per game).
Freshman Pien Steenbergen also showed a lot in her first year of college ball. She earned the trust of the coaching staff in some real moments, hitting spot up threes and step backs in some close games when it really mattered. She will certainly be a factor on offense for the Flames in the coming years. Point guard Jordan Hodges also returns, 2nd on the team in assists and a trustworthy floor spacer that can hit from distance.
All in all, there is much to look forward to as the offseason continues and Liberty enters into a new season competing in CUSA. This roster is full of talented young players from front to back, all capable of coming in and making an impact on either end of the floor.