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4A GIRLS: Liberty loaded with talent, experience

Many new basketball coaches worry about finding enough quality players for their team and how the team might get along.

All Quintin Lester had to do was pick up last year’s Liberty girls basketball roster and start matching names to faces.

Lester takes over a Patriots team that returns all five starters and all but one player from a squad that qualified for the Sunrise Region playoffs for the first time in school history.

“It’s a good way to kick things off,” Lester said. “I inherited a program with chemistry already built in, and that usually takes a while to develop. We’ve got good leadership instilled already. The girls know each other.”

Just as important, the Patriots have experienced success together.

Liberty finished 19-10 overall and 10-4 in the Southeast League last season. Six of the 10 losses were to Green Valley and Silverado, the top two teams in the Southeast last year.

Both Green Valley and Silverado lost at least one starter to graduation. Not Liberty.

“It raises our expectations a lot,” junior guard Amanda Delgado said. “We expect to go far, hopefully state. Everyone is pretty excited.”

Delgado led the team in scoring last year at 12.2 points per game, and four other players averaged at least 8.3.

Jade Washington, also a junior, is back to run the point after averaging 12.1 points and seven assists.

Daynice Cochran, a senior, is the team’s biggest threat in the low post. She averaged 8.8 points and 11.4 rebounds.

But here’s the kicker: With all the returning players, Liberty likely will start three juniors — Washington, Delgado and guard Destiny Whitehead.

The Patriots still are young and improving.

“A lot of people (outside the program) think we might not go far because we’re still young,” Delgado said. “We all know each other. We all played summer (basketball) together. We know everything is good.”

Maybe the only question the Patriots have is how well they’ll respond to the coaching change.  So far, the answer is an emphatic one.

“We have a certain respect for him that I don’t know that we’d have for other coaches,” Washington said. “He comes in and he just gets straight to business.”

With the right motivation and plenty of talent in place, it’s no wonder the team’s goals are lofty.

“There aren’t any fire-and-brimstone speeches that need to be made,” Lester said. “We want to make it to the state tournament. We’re shooting to win our league. Everybody is on the same page.”

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