By JOSH RIZZO
Herald-Whig Sports Writer
LIBERTY, Ill. -- Madelyn Hyer wasn't apprehensive about lining up against Maranda Neisen.
When the ball would funnel to Neisen, a 5-foot-10 senior forward for the Liberty-Payson girls basketball, during practice, Hyer would try to push her underneath to make it feel like a game.
"It was difficult, but someone had to do it," said Hyer, a 5-foot-10 freshman. "I was glad to do it. At first, being a freshman going in with seniors, I was scared. After a couple days of practice, I was glad it was me that got to work with the seniors. It was a great experience."
In return, Neisen helped ease Hyer into the varsity program.
"At the beginning of the year, I told her not to worry if she made mistakes and that everyone makes mistakes and that if she keeps going she'll be fine," Neisen said. "She proved a lot from the beginning of the season. She's done really good."
The Lady Eagles' two post players had fun joking around in practice and developed a quick chemistry. They need to work together to answer
a challenge from first-year Lady Eagles coach Brad Bergman.
Coming in, Bergman wanted to develop toughness in the interior.
"I think Madelyn pushed Maranda a little bit," Bergman said. "I made Maranda stay inside and be a post. On the first day of practice, I told my team, ‘I'm a post-player coach and I want to pound the ball inside.' I challenged Maranda and Madelyn to be the best players on the floor. I refer to them as big ol' nasties because they play like big, old nasty players."
The duo quickly answered the challenge, raising hopes that second-seeded Liberty (15-11) can win a Class 2A regional title on its home floor this week. Hyer has led the Lady Eagles in scoring 13 times and averages 12 points and eight rebounds per game. Neisen has averaged nine points and nine rebounds.
Defensively, the duo also has caused headaches for opponents.
"We have a good connection with each other," Neisen said. "If I'm guarding a person, I know she's going to be on weak side. She knows what I need help on, and I know she's going to be there when I need her."
Bergman decided to have Neisen move to the blocks after watching game film from last season.
"It was a little harder for Maranda. She's required to stay in the post and battle and bang," Bergman said. "I don't like it when she runs around the perimeter or gets out too high. She has taken on the challenge, and I think she's a player that could move on and play at the next level if she wanted to."
Neisen was happy to take on the new role.
"I was ready for it," Neisen said. "He's a good coach, and he knew what was best for us. We were ready to do whatever he wanted. We have good guards, and we have two good post players. I'm taller, so it's easier to stay in post and do work down there."
While there was little intimidation in practice, adjusting in the game took time for Hyer. During the learning process, she found a safety valve for when things go wrong.
"I figured out through the season that if I was under the basket and couldn't put it up, I could pass it to Lanessa Graham," Hyer said. "She can make the outside shots. I just need to tap it out to her for her to shoot."
Neisen hopes the healthy competition in practice can lead to a title.
"We're excited to come out and try to win a regional title, especially since its at home," Neisen said. "We're ready to go far."