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Clearwater guard chooses Liberty

Rachel Hammond always has had it bad for Liberty.

She first saw videos of the Lynchburg, Va., university as a sophomore. She liked the school even before Clearwater's star shooting guard learned how good Flames basketball was. A recruiting visit this month closed the deal.

"The Christian atmosphere and the good basketball is a great combination for me," she said. "I absolutely loved the coaches and the team and the atmosphere. It's right in the Blue Ridge mountains.

"It's everything I'm looking for."

That was why Hammond orally commited to Liberty, the first of nine seniors on Clearwater's returning state finalist team to do so.

Tornadoes coach Tom Shaneyfelt said Liberty is getting one of the best players he has ever coached.

"If you made a list of all the qualities you admire and want as a coach, off the court she's even better," Shaneyfelt said. "She's just a great kid and she has everything going for her.

"They're definitely getting one of the best guards in the state talent-wise. But as far as a person, she's even surpassed that."

The Division I Flames have won eight consecutive Big South Conference titles, made as many trips to the NCAA Tournament and has 136 wins in the last six seasons.

Liberty is getting a 5-foot-8 shooter who has played in three straight state final fours and last year helped Clearwater to the Class 5A title game.

The Times' All-Suncoast first teamer averaged 14.6 points, 7.4 rebounds, 3.2 steals and 2.8 assists that season, topped 1,000 points and, together with point guard Nicole Ryan, was voted to the 5A state all-tournament team.

South Florida, East Carolina, Florida International and James Madison all offered scholarships to the National Honor Society member.

But Hammond wouldn't budge.

"A lot of coaches said I need to follow up and go see their schools," she said. "But I already knew what I wanted when I went up (to Liberty). I went up there with great expectations and all of them were met."