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August 30, 2014

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Despite low enrollment, Liberty teams show marked improvement

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Heather Cory

Athletic Administrator Warren Hagman, left, and Athletic Director Xavier Antheaume pose for a portrait in the Liberty gym.

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Warren Hagman was not sure to expect when he came to Liberty as the school's athletic administrator two years ago.

He knew Liberty had the lowest enrollment of any 4A school in Southern Nevada, and he knew the girls soccer team had made one brief appearance in the postseason.

A lot has changed in two short years, however, as Liberty's athletic program has seen a dynamic shift in many sports, even collecting its first Southeast Division championship for boys basketball last season.

While the outlook is bright for many Patriots programs, the enrollment number remains startlingly low, especially when compared to other Southeast Division schools.

And, with the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association looking at possible realignment to alleviate problems created by a shrinking 3A class and a shrinking budget, Liberty is facing an uncertain future.

"Coming here last year I was led to believe that Liberty was down in the bottom of the league in just about everything," Hagman said. "They had seen individual success, but no team had gotten very far. I was tasked to help the teams turn the corner. Now, I'm not sure I did that so much as the kids and coaches turned it (around) themselves."

The boys basketball team has become the shining example of the potential Liberty holds. The Patriots improved over the last three seasons from 4-10 to 5-9 to 12-2, capturing the league title and the school's first championship banner in 2008.

Liberty basketball coach Pat Welby said the team has helped build school spirit that has led to greater interest in playing for a winning program.

"With the success, we've seen our numbers have grown and we've been able to sustain a freshman and junior varsity program, which is something we haven't always been able to do," Welby said. "Kids are looking forward to the season, and they're looking forward to Liberty continuing further into the postseason."

The school's softball team has also seen success in recent seasons, and wrestling, girls basketball and cross country have taken large strides this season. At the same time, other teams continue to struggle to remain competitive.

The boys soccer team recently finished its fourth straight season without a win. The swimming team, especially the boys team, has been unable to draw the numbers needed to compete with powerhouse teams like Green Valley and Coronado. In football, Liberty has been held to five league victories in six years and has never reached the playoffs.

"I think football, more than any other sport, gets hurt by the low enrollment," football coach Lou Markouzis said. "Because of their numbers, other schools can keep kids on the freshman and junior varsity teams but we might have to play them early. That's tough on the kids both physically and mentally."

With an enrollment of 1,853 students compared to 2,854 at Silverado, the next closest school, Liberty has had the lowest enrollment of any 4A school in the Las Vegas valley for six straight years.

The 4A class is defined as schools with 1,201 students or more, while the 3A class is for schools with 461 to 1,200 students.

The idea has been floated that Liberty and other schools at a competitive disadvantage might be asked to move down to 3A, which next year would have only three schools.

"The state of the 3A is something we have to address sooner rather than later," said Ray Mathis, the executive director of instructional support and student services for the Clark County School District. "We're going to look at all possibilities — schools moving down, schools moving up. We'll find something that works best for everyone."

While Hagman agreed that Liberty has been at a disadvantage facing schools with as many as 1,500 more students, he said a move down to the 3A would only reverse the imbalance in Liberty's favor.

"We've always struggled with numbers and we haven't had a lot of depth in any sport but I think that just speaks to our successes and ability to overcome those issues," Hagman said. "We do fit the mold of a school that could be asked to move down, but I don't see a 3A team being able to compete with us in basketball or most other sports."

Jared Harmon can be reached at 990-8922 or [email protected].

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