7th-grade group wins AAU state; next stop nationals

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Girls' Basketball

By Mike Farner

 MOUNT WASHINGTON - A group of young basketball players who are expected to make a lot of noise in the coming years at Bullitt East, got a jump on that this spring as they won the Girls’ Kentucky AAU 7th-grade Division II State Championship in Lexington.

The 10 girls play against each other in the winter as they compete for their middle school teams at either Eastside or Mount Washington. After that, they have been combining and joining the Bullitt East program, helping out at the freshman, junior-varsity and even varsity level last season.

This year, the group of seventh-graders got together and with their parents’ guidance enlisted the help of Bullitt East assistant coach Steve Gajdik to coach them in a spring of AAU competition.

That worked out just fine as the team bounced back from a loss in pool play at the state tournament in late April to avenge that loss to Mason County to win the state tournament. With that, the team qualified for the AAU 7th Grade Division II National Championship Tournament, which will start on July 13 just north of Cincinnati.

(Division II was set up for those teams based on a single school program, unlike Division I, where coaches can recruit players from all over an unlimited geographical area. In addition, these girls have all completed the seventh-grade and will be eighth-graders in the fall.)

Bullitt East went 3-1 in the state event at the Kentucky Basketball Academy in Lexington. There was a 10-point loss to Mason County in pool play, but the red and gold bounced back and beat Mason County in the final by four points.

“They were quite a bit like us,” Gajdik said recently after coaching Bullitt East in a summer league scrimmage. “We all did our job against Mason County in the final.”

The leader of the pack at this point in the group is 5-8 guard Lindsey Duvall. She saw a lot of playing time at Bullitt East this past winter on the varsity, logging key minutes over the last two months of the season as she played alongside her sister, senior Ashley Duvall.

“It’s a little deceiving,” Gajdik said of putting the ball into Duvall’s hands. “She is our most consistent player, but we have three or four girls we can go to at important times. Lindsey is our leader but she is not always the girl we will use all the time.”

The official roster lists ten girls, but Gajdik says that he has basically two solid groups of five players who can all contribute.

“We use all ten,” the coach said. “I think the team is so successful because we have five solid starters and we have five good, solid subs. We don’t drop off a lot when we do sub.”

This group has strong inside play from 5-11 Mount Washington Middle School center Raegan Williams. Williams got some help inside late in the high school season when 5-7 Abby Rodgers transferred in from My Old Kentucky Home Middle School in Bardstown.

When Bullitt East went to team camp at Murray State last week, three of the girls off this team traveled with the varsity. Gajdik expects all three to contribute varsity minutes in the upcoming season.

The coach figures that this group has posted a 30-5 record this spring, but he really doesn’t know what to expect at the national level. He said that roughly 30 teams took part last year and he thinks that his squad will see a few other Kentucky teams again.

After winning the state tournament, the team has not been practicing too much, but that was going to change after the Fourth of July. The team was going to get back in the gym then and then work together until leaving for the opening ceremonies on July 13. The championship game is set for July 18.

There has been fund-raising going on for this trip.

“We’ve been selling doughnuts and collecting donations and we had a car wash,” Gajdik said. “It will take some money for a five night stay.”