Keyen Green’s first two seasons on the court at Liberty featured plenty of touches on the block and a plethora of scoring opportunities for her and her fellow forwards.
The post dominance was nothing new for the Flames in the Big South Conference. Liberty was the unquestioned queen of the conference with its bevy of imposing forwards ruling the paint and scoring at will against the undermatched opponents.
Green, though, missed all of last season following a pair of reconstruction surgeries on her right ankle, and she did not get to experience life in the Flames’ new home, the Atlantic Sun Conference.
The conference features more speed and quickness on the perimeter and that forced the Flames to grow as a team. The guards, in the process, became more confident in their ability to score. Forward Bridgette Rettstatt’s game evolved to the point where she can score anywhere in the offense.
Liberty’s makeup looks different as Green returns to the rotation and that should allow for a more balanced attack entering the Flames’ second season in the new conference.
“I think this team is 10 times more balanced than the two teams that I played on,” Green said, “which actually takes a lot of weight off of me in coming back and not being 100% yet. It’s just good to know everything’s not on me.”
The Flames were picked to finish second in both the media and coaches preseason polls behind defending conference champion Florida Gulf Coast. Liberty went 16-16 last season and advanced to the tournament title game, where it lost on the road to the Eagles.
“The girls are still upset; we still talk about it,” junior guard Ashtyn Baker said of the title game loss. “It’s a good motivator to say, ‘Hey, this is where we were, this is where we want to be.’”
Baker is one of five returning players who started at least 16 games last season. The two-year starter at point guard is flanked by Ria Gulley, the Indiana transfer who led the team with 90 assists last season and sprinkled in 7.3 points per game.
Emily Lytle, a transfer from Arkansas-Little Rock, enjoyed a breakout season by leading the team in scoring (12.4 points per game) and 3-pointers made (64).
“It’s total balance,” Lytle said of the dynamic of this season’s team. “Keyen can go to work on the inside; you can do pick-and-roll with either Bridgette or Keyen, and you can have Bridgette pop out because she can shoot the 3 as well. Then you have guards that can sit in the corner and shoot. Ria and Ashtyn are super-quick point guards — I hate guarding them in practice — but they can get by people easily. I feel like it’s a pretty good balance.”
Rettstatt emerged as a threat in the post last season. She was second on the team in scoring at 11 points per game and led the squad with seven rebounds per contest.
The 6-foot-2 forward was not just a back-to-the-basket presence. She was able to score from beyond the arc, catching the ball on the move around the basket, and finishing in transition.
Her versatility allowed the Flames to become more consistent scoring in transition in ASUN play. The junior scored in double figures in 12 of 16 conference games last season.
“I think one of Liberty’s strengths and weaknesses is that we play a more half-court oriented game,” Rettstatt said. “As a strength, the other teams aren’t used to that and so they’re feeling uncomfortable as we’re playing half-court. For us to adapt with the teams in the ASUN, we’re going to have to push the ball a little bit more.”
The veteran group also features forwards Kierra Johnson-Graham and Mya McMillian, who both started at times last season. Johnson-Graham was third on the team in scoring at 8.5 points per game.
True freshman guards Asia Todd and Kennedi Williams are both expected to contend for playing time. The two were teammates on the Hoop Dreams Athletics AAU team.
“It’s been a good blend. The personality of the team is unique and different, and I really think it’s because of maturing leadership of the seniors and the juniors with a blend of a lot of energy coming in,” Flames coach Carey Green said. “They really get along and like each other. I love the team, too. We just have a lot more options and opportunities, and we’ve got to stay focused and continue to develop and grow. That’s where if anybody has pressure, that’s my pressure that I need to have to make sure we keep blending them and have them to continue to grow. It’s exciting to be here right now with this particular team.”
Damien Sordelett covers Liberty athletics for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5550.