During her first season on the Liberty High School girls basketball team, Danielle Tapscott was stuffed inside a locker, had gym socks crammed into her mouth by her older teammates and helped the Eagles win the Northwestern District title.

Is it any wonder Tapscott loved being a freshman?

"That season was very fun because of the seniors," said Tapscott, who is now a senior. "We were like a huge family, and the seniors were our big sisters. They had to hold me down to put the socks in my mouth, and they had to chase me to put me in the locker -- but it was fun. I looked up to those seniors. I want to be a leader and have people look up to me in the same way that I looked up to those seniors when I was a freshman."

Tapscott, a 5-foot-6 guard, is one of two seniors on the Eagles' roster (guard Jen Hudson is the other), and she is the unquestioned leader of the team. She is the team's most experienced player -- this is her fourth year on the varsity -- and she is a vocal presence on and off the court.

Tapscott has traveled a bumpy road since her freshman season. She fought injuries throughout her sophomore year -- first tendinitis in her knees and then a fractured tibia -- and then dealt with what she thought was a disappointing season last year. But each year she has improved her game.

"A lot of times at the high school level, you don't see dramatic improvement in players," Liberty Coach Ellen Chapman said. "But I can honestly say that Danielle has improved every year I've coached her. Every year, something about her game has been visibly improved. This year, she is shooting the ball the best I've ever seen her."

Tapscott averaged eight points per game last season and was the leading scorer (14 points) in the Eagles' final game, a 62-50 loss at Charlottesville in the Region II quarterfinals.

She is explosive and quick, which makes her dangerous off the dribble, and is an excellent defender.

"She's a good ballplayer," Loudoun Valley Coach Carmel Keilty said. "She's got the tools to be an excellent ballplayer. You know you've got to stay on her at all times, or she'll score on you."

Tapscott comes from a basketball family -- she has five brothers, all of whom play. Daron, 22, was an honorable mention All-Met guard for Liberty in 1994; Demond, 20, was the All-Extra Player of the Year in 1998 and recently transferred from Belmont Abbey College to Shepherd College to play basketball.

"We have a gym in my dad's church [Faith Christian Church in Warrenton]. I like to play my brothers because they make me work so hard," Tapscott said. "I play defense against Daron and Demond, and they always shake me, but it helps me. Even my little brother Derek, who's 11, he shows me moves that he says I should do."

Leadership has come naturally to Tapscott, who has been the president of her class since she was a freshman.

"Being a class officer, your main job is to get people involved," Tapscott said. "You want people to feel like part of the class and not like an outcast."

The same rule applies to the basketball team. Tapscott wants to make sure all of the players, particularly the varsity newcomers, feel comfortable on the team.

So when the players gather in the locker room and sing the "Star-Spangled Banner" before a game, Tapscott acts as the choir director. When the players meet for a team dinner, Tapscott names the time and place. When things get too serious, Tapscott lightens the mood with a joke.

"It seems like she's been on the team forever," junior forward Krystal Hermes said. "She keeps everybody going, and she brings the team together because she's the senior of the gang. She helps everyone out; she's kind of like a big sister to all of us."