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Liberty hopes to become region contender again in girls basketball

Monday, Dec. 2 | By Fred Hodge
Liberty's India Turner blocks 2012-13 Evergreen District Player of the Year Alesha Adams duing a game against Warren County last season. --Photo by Rick Foster
By its lofty standards the last five years, Liberty's girls basketball program had an unusual 2012-13 season.

The Eagles were coming off back-to-back appearances in the state basketball championship game in 2011 and 2012, and won the Class AA Division 4 title in 2011.

But no starters returned, leaving new coach Ashton Mitchell with the challenging job of trying to keep the Eagles' tradition going with an undeniably young group.

The 2012-13 season began sluggishly before improvements became evident and the team finished 9-14.

Now the situation is reversed as the 2013-14 Eagles return almost everyone from last year, setting the stage for a strong bounce-back season

"The girls have matured so much since last year," said the program's second year coach, who now goes by her married name of Ashton Girolmo.

"The girls came back this year refreshed and confident in their ability to play. They have worked so hard. They have made themselves better players," Girolmo said.

Leading the charge are a trio of all-Evergreen District standouts.

Guards Ashley Lane (sophomore) and India Turner (junior) were first team all-Evergreen last year, with 6-foot-4 post Kiana Smith (senior) making second team. Lane and Turner are confident and potent offensive weapons, while Smith provides the coveted inside presence every coach craves.

The rest of the 15-member team includes Lizzy Berger, Kaila Blackwell, Jerrin Garnett, Keyanna Gibson, Diane McDaniel, Zoe Peele, Anna Stribling, Melissa Borja, Rosie Morton, Alexis Jones, Sarah Panagos and Sydney Williams.

"Offensively, I have kids who can go out and do great things for us. It's a matter of finding out how to use those weapons," Girolmo said.

"Defensively, we're looking to be a lot more aggressive than last year," she said. "We want to be able to control things with our defense."

The Virginia High School League's new conference format is making district play inconsequential, but Girolmo thinks she'll have her team ready.

"We played in a very competitive fall league. There were much larger schools. It will make us stronger," she said.

Girolmo said a year of experience and hard work is showing. "We were able to start on a much higher level. Technically we should be improved across the board. The post season, summer and fall have allowed us to grow."

Conference play will include Courtland, which advanced to the Group AA title game in 2012 and 2013. Eastern View also reached the state quarterfinals for three years.

Liberty won three-consecutive regular season and tournament championships from 2010 to 2012. The Eagles carried a 29-game winning streak into district play last year.

The Eagles open their season Dec. 3 at home against Sherando, which could be interesting.

The Eagles likely remember last season's two losses to the Warriors. The first came Nov. 28 when the young Eagles were unready for Sherando's pressure defense and fell, 87-29.

They played again on Jan. 18 and Sherando won, 61-32.

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