Bridgette Rettstatt heard stories from her position coach, Katie (Feenstra) Mattera, about the culture within the Liberty women’s basketball locker room during the 2004-05 season.
These stories of unity, camaraderie and selflessness struck a chord with Rettstatt. The forward heard about how the collective roster buy-in led to the Flames qualifying for the Sweet 16 and generating buzz around the program.
Rettstatt felt called to return to Liberty for her extra season of eligibility. It wasn’t to climb the career scoring and rebounding lists or to win ASUN’s all-conference honors. Sure, that would be great, but his goal was to establish a culture that would lay the groundwork for years to come.
Liberty enters the quarterfinal round of the ASUN Conference Tournament with a 26-3 record and a resounding win on their resume. Does this type of campaign, the one in which Rettstatt and the rest of her teammates have shone on the pitch, mean that her goal has been achieved?
“I’m the kind of person that I think my business is never done with,” she explained, “but I really think we’ve made some big strides this year. It was really cool to see.
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The Flames have challenged perennial powerhouse ASUN FGCU each of the past three seasons, but they were blown twice in the title game and saw a third league game canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Those seasons, however, featured two main scorers, Emily Lytle and Ashtyn Baker, who could take over in the second half when Liberty needed points.
Both transferred to use their extra year of eligibility, and it was then that Rettstatt set to work establishing a culture that could support success.
The team came up with 10 standards which are written on the whiteboard in the war room located in the Vines Center training facility. These include standards such as the pursuit of Christ, relentless effort equals bouncing back, respect, mutual accountability, and team-first Rettstatt’s favorite/dying to self.
“I think that’s one of the biggest things you can see this year. We play as a team and it’s not so much, … we don’t just have two people scoring all the time, like last year,” Rettstatt said. “Ashtyn and Emily, they were great players and they proved that in what they did here at Liberty, but our strength in this team is strength in numbers.
“I think even the way we train, everyone comes in and at least tries to put their feelings aside and make their teammate better. Sometimes you don’t have a good day offensively so you have to get it back on defense because that’s what your team needs, that’s what your teammate needs from you. I think we just developed a strong culture of unity and just one family.
First and foremost, team spirit is rooted in the expression “strength in numbers”. Forward Mya Berkman has echoed that statement several times this season, saying the cohesive unit doesn’t need to rely on one or two players every night. It can be any of the 10 players in the rotation who can step in and contribute.
That showed early in the season when the Flames picked up wins over Ohio and James Madison, then blasted Virginia Tech for the program’s first win over the Hokies in Lynchburg. It was then that the talk of a special season began to materialize.
“Honestly, I think something that really showed what this team could do was beat Virginia Tech. We all thought we could do it,” Rettstatt said. “I think winning proved to everyone that we’re a good team and we can do great things this year obviously we don’t want to end this we want to go to the NCAA tournament we want to beat FGCU and all that I think that’s the one of the most important things that, from the outside, makes you say to yourself: “Oh, yes, this team is a force to be reckoned with.”
Rettstatt reaped the rewards of coming back and creating a culture through stellar play on the pitch. She enters the quarterfinal game against Eastern Kentucky (15-15), scheduled for 2 p.m. Sunday inside Liberty Arena, with a career-high 11.4 points to go with 6, 5 rebounds per game, and was recently named to the ASUN All-Conference First Team. .
The 6-foot-2 striker has scrapes, bruises and a bloody left eye to show the work she’s put in this season. She said the confidence she gained in how the culture was established seeped into her game.
“She’s a phenomenal player and she’s been playing very well in recent games,” FGCU coach Karl Smesko said of Rettstatt. “She’s one of the ones you can’t really lose sight of because she’s a good cutter, she can hit 3s, she can drive to the basket, she’s pretty crafty with shot fakes. She’s got a lot game for her.
Rettstatt got a taste of NCAA tournament experience in his freshman season when the Flames won the Big South title in their final season in the conference. She’s been set to return to the Big Dance twice since then, but while she’s not making a return trip to the NCAA Tournament to cap off her college career, she knows her job to establish a culture set up by Liberty. for years to come.
“We had a little team meeting after practice one day and it just hit me and I said to my team, ‘I’ve been playing basketball for a really long time, since I was about 4 years old. This team is the most special team I have ever been part of,” said Rettstatt. “It’s not necessarily the way we play and, I’ll be honest, it’s not my best friends in the team, it’s the way we all surround each other and the way we all pull on each other. others, it’s just been really cool to be in. I wouldn’t trade any bloody eyes or anything for this year.