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Leadership styles distinguish Duke's top four returning players

Haley Peters, Elizabeth Williams, Chelsea Gray and Tricia Liston, clockwise from left, combined for 49.3 PPG last year.
Haley Peters, Elizabeth Williams, Chelsea Gray and Tricia Liston, clockwise from left, combined for 49.3 PPG last year.

Head coach Joanne P. McCallie and her team shared a great deal of disappointment at the team’s heartbreaking loss in the regional finals of last year’s NCAA Tournament. But there’s a silver lining as a new season gets underway—nearly all of those disappointed players are back on campus in an effort to make another run at a title.

Duke is the only team from last year’s Elite Eight to return its top five scorers from the previous season, and the top four of those scorers will likely continue to form the core of the starting lineup not just for this season but for 2013-14 as well.

“With all the players that we have back and the variety of people we have, our limits—we don’t have limits,” junior guard Tricia Liston said. “We can pretty much do anything that we put our minds to, and I think that’s just really exciting to have that open door ahead of me for two years.”

The continuity from last season—when guard Chelsea Gray and forwards Haley Peters and Elizabeth Williams started every game and Liston joined the lineup for the second half of the season—will give the talented Duke squad an advantage entering the 2012-13 campaign.

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It also helps that each member the quartet brings such different skill sets to the table, both on and off the court.

“We all have a different way of leading and we all have a different way of talking to people, and I think that really helps,” Liston said. “Out of us, you’re bound to find someone that you can talk to and relate to… and actually understand their criticism and their encouragement.”

Williams’ leadership style is the quietest of the four, but it is hard not to notice her skill set on the court. Despite stress fractures that slowed the genial, laid-back Virginia Beach native at the end of last season and currently have her sidelined, the No. 2 recruit in the class of 2011 still managed to average 14 points and 7.8 rebounds per game, leading the team in both categories.

Liston is similarly soft-spoken but plenty aggressive in finding her long-range shot. She took nearly twice as many threes as any other player last year, making 57 of her 124 attempts for a remarkable 46-percent clip. In the team’s first exhibition game this season, she led the way with 36 points on 13-of-15 shooting.

Liston’s 12 boards in that game were second only to the 18 rebounds pulled down by Peters, who is in many ways the most noticeable of the group, standing 6-foot-3 and possessing the most in-your-face leadership style.

But in other ways, she blends in, lacking a killer attribute like Liston’s 3-point shot, Gray’s slashing ability or Williams’ post game. Peters utilized her versatility, though, to shoot 51 percent from the floor including 44 percent from beyond the arc, averaging 10.8 points and 5.6 rebounds per game.

She has continued to work on her perimeter game as McCallie has emphasized the importance of multi-positional flexibility. Williams said she is continuing to work on her midrange game, and McCallie characterized Liston as a player who fits at every position except center. Gray will continue to see more time off the ball in order to give defenses a different look and allow freshman phenom Alexis Jones to run the point at times.

“I think generally the more that we [work on other positions], the more that we’ll stop caring about position and then whatever five is on the court, it’s just more playing together and position matters less,” Peters said.

Gray’s role will remain constant, though, regardless of what position she plays, because her focused nature makes her a natural floor general.

“Being a leader, getting everybody involved first and then eventually looking for my shot,” Gray said.

The 5-foot-11 Californian’s distributing instincts were on full display last year, when she led the ACC by dishing out 6.1 assists per game as Duke’s primary point guard.

But not all is rosy for this group of returning talent for McCallie. The head coach emphasized that while her group can score with the best teams in the nation, they will have to focus on improving their defense. And the injury bug that bit the Blue Devils last season has returned to pester the team at the beginning of this year, so much so that McCallie refused to make projections about the team’s potential.

“Based on the injuries we’ve had, I just don’t think about that,” McCallie said. “I might have thought about that if we were perfectly healthy right now, but—man, we’ve worked hard...and we’ve got a starting five out.”

When pressed, though, she acknowledged how special her current group of talent could be if it coalesces.

“If we ever have that crescendo where it all comes together, we will all know it,” she said, pausing. “We will all know it.”

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