East in full rebuilding mode

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2011-2012 High School Basketball Preview

By Mike Farner

    MOUNT WASHINGTON - After reaching the championship game of the Sixth Region Tournament for two straight seasons and being ranked among the top teams in the state, the Bullitt East Lady Chargers are looking to pick-up the pieces from heavy graduation losses.
    Adding to the rebuilding process is the fact that for the second straight season, the Lady Chargers suffered a major injury before the season even began. Before last season it was senior Jessica Philpott who had a knee injury and never could back it back for more than momentary play late in her final season.
    This summer, the Lady Chargers went through the same setback. This time it was senior Nikole Isabel, the team's leading returning player who was hurt in a summer league game. The good news is that Isabel's injury and surgery happened earlier in the summer than Philpott's injury. It appears now that Isabel will be able to play this season.
    "She is making really good progress," Stallings said after a practice last week. "We are hoping that she will be released soon and we're hoping for her to be back after Christmas."
    Still, even with a best case scenario for Isabel, this is a young and very inexperienced Lady Charger team. Stallings has had teams like this in the past, but very rarely.
    "We've been blessed," the coach said of his high-powered program. "Like I have told the girls, you can look every day and see the success of our former players in the paper. You can see it online. You can see success they are having at the next level. That says a lot about our program and them being a part of it."
    By last week the Lady Chargers had already scrimmaged once, winning a half against Webster County and losing a half. That has pretty much summed up the pre-season for the Lady Chargers as they have struggled with consistency in practice.
    That comes with youth and inexperience.
    "I would say that sums it up. It is a major rebuilding job," Stallings said. "But it can be fun. We haven't been in this situation since (Whitney) Hanley and (Kelly) Harrod were young.
    "We just have a lot of inexperience," the coach of the Kentucky All-Stars this past summer added. "We're making those type of mistakes. You have to battle through them."
    It is getting better. Stallings thought his team was coming off its three best days of practice of the pre-season.
    "This week has been good," Stallings noted. "I think we have gotten better. We are starting to do things with more consistency in our effort and mental approach. Right now that is where we are. We are improving in little steps."
    If you are only going to have one starter back, any coach will tell you that it is best if the returning player is the point guard. The Lady Chargers have that in sophomore Emily Fryman who stepped into the role early last season and quickly melded with the older girls.
    However, Fryman is a ball-handler and floor general. She scored very little last season. That is where Isabel was going to fit in. Now, the Lady Chargers area little short on offensive firepower.
    One player who got some varsity playing time last season was sophomore guard Taylor Blain who often was the back-up point guard to Fryman. This season, she will step out on the court and become a starter. The other starter on the outside will be junior Cady Cornell who has had a strong fall after not even playing with the Bullitt East varsity last season.
    Inside, the Lady Chargers lost 6-2 center Lindey Young to graduation. The red and gold will be much smaller with 5-9 senior Ashley Duvall working on the front line along with 5-9 sophomore Courtney Pfister.
    While Stallings is looking at those five players to start early in the season, the coach admits that he has no firm rotation in mind at this point. There are 14 names on the varsity roster at this point and any of those players could earn playing time.
    Senior guard Carly Coulter will get early looks off the bench at one of the guard positions along with fellow senior Rachel Broughton and sophomore Kaleigh Sharpe. Inside, 5-10 freshman Kylee Willis, the younger sister of Charger standout Derek Willis, will see her first varsity action and the Charger coaches will also look at either 5-9 sophomore Mackenzie Bass or 5-9 junior Sara Stevens to add depth to the front court.
    "We're just looking for kids who will play hard and practice hard on a daily basis," Stallings pointed out.
    The veteran coach expects to have a much stronger team on the court in February than when the season starts next Tuesday at Presentation.
    "Our room for improvement and growth is exponential from where we start to where we finish," Stallings said. "That's a long process. Being around it as long as I have, I know getting from point 'A' to point 'B' is not always easy. A lot of effort has to go into that."
    If you were looking at the Bullitt East schedule you would never guess that the team is rebuilding. Stallings has not softened the schedule at all. The Lady Chargers play the top two teams in the Sixth Region, Mercy and Butler, as well as many of the top challengers, including Bullitt Central twice as well as Holy Cross and Pleasure Ridge Park.
    Stallings and his team will also host the Vision First Holiday Classic just before Christmas. That will be an eight-team event that will take place over three days. After Christmas, the team will head to Fort Walton Beach for a duel trip with the boys' team. Bullitt East will also play in three Saturday 'Showcase' events including the Bullitt County Challenge on Jan. 14.
    The Lady Chargers did lose freshman coach Lenny Raley from the staff, but Stallings did not really add anyone new to the program. Steve Gajdik just moved from volunteer status to freshman coach where he will join long-time assistant coach Christal Scott. Albert Thompson remains as a volunteer coach and Eastside Middle School head coach Samantha Downs will also work with the high school team at times.