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Lady Panthers to feature many freshmen
Lady Panther Jaelyn James, shown here making a jump shot against an opponent last season, is the lone returning senior starter on the Liberty girls' team this season. - photo by Courier file photo

Liberty County girls’ basketball coach Carolyn Kelly had a relatively young team last year, but nothing like what she said she’ll encounter this season.

“I have said in the past that we are going to be a young team, and this year, unlike in the past, this is the first time in my whole entire coaching career that I’ve had a team where I only have two seniors, of which only one was a starter last year… two juniors that have been in the program three years, and then I have about five sophomores and 14 freshmen,” the coach said.

Her lone senior starter is guard Jaelyn James, who has been with the team for four years. Junior Tia Fleming was a starter last season who added power and size to the Lady Panthers’ inside game. Sophomore Navia Telfair provide valuable minutes last season as well and is poised to be a starter this season.

“This is a very young team, but I will say the freshmen do have a lot of basketball ability,” Kelly said. “We are going to take a lot of hits at the beginning of the year, but I expect to see a great deal of improvements in my kids by the end of the season for the region playoffs.”

The coach said she is evaluating which sophomores or freshmen will make the final two starting spots.

“And then, of course, the backup players,” she said. “That is where we will have to start to drop down to all our freshman. I’ll have to pull up at least 7-8 freshmen to come in and give us some subs and play some good minutes.”

Kelly said the incoming freshmen have great athletic ability but lack game experience at the high-school level.

Of her starters, Kelly said Fleming improved her speed and basketball know-how over the summer.

“For a junior, she is probably playing at a senior level right now, which will be a plus for us,” the coach said.

James always has proven her talent on the court, Kelly said, and Telfair is quick and has good ball-handling skills.

The coach said the freshmen add height they’ve lacked the last two years. The incoming group of freshmen average between 5 feet 8 inches and 5 feet 9 inches. Some former middle-school players may have to play new positions.

The coach also congratulated last year’s Lady Panther player of the year, Briana Reece, who made the final roster and will play for Georgia Southern this year as a freshman.

“We knew she had the talent … I’m very proud and happy for her that it worked for her behalf,” Kelly said.

The Lady Panthers have a tough first game with crosstown rival Bradwell at 6:30 p.m. next Friday at BI

Reece and the Lady Eagles basketball team were set to have an exhibition game Thursday at Coastal Georgia. GSU opens the regular season next Friday against Lipscomb in Nashville, Tennessee.

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