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East Lady Chargers finish fifth at AAU nationals

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Incoming BE freshman group posts 7-1 record in Florida

By Mike Farner

 MOUNT WASHINGTON – Another summer, another big finish in an AAU National Tournament for the East Lady Chargers.

A year after finishing third in the 7th-grade Division Two Tournament in Ohio, the group of girls from Mount Washington won the Kentucky State Title this spring in the 8th-grade Division Two Tournament to advance to this summer’s national finals in Orlando, Florida.

The powerful group of freshmen-to-be at Bullitt East this fall, won their pool and then reached the quarter-finals of the bracket tournament before losing to the Southern Mississippi-Mississippi Elite squad. The Mississippi Elite team would go on to win the national title. The East Lady Chargers then battled back to win two more games to finish fifth overall with a 7-1 record.

The East Lady Chargers were the only program in the country to reach the final-eight in those age groups the last two years.

It was another strong finish for the team coached by Bullitt East freshman girls’ coach Steve Gajdik.

“We really did have a good week,” Gajdik said of the eight games played over five days. “We had one of the two best teams down there, but we just played the top team a few games too early.”

From the way that the AAU says that they set up such tournaments, Gajdik believes that his team had the top seed for this year’s event coming off last year’s finish and then winning the Kentucky State Tournament again.

The Division II designation is supposed to be for programs from a single community or school. Gajdik found out from other coaches that a lot of the teams had players headed to multiple high schools. The 11 girls in the East Lady Charger program all attended either Eastside Middle School or Mount Washington Middle School with the exception of one player who was homeschooled. All 11 of the players will be wearing the red and gold of Bullitt East starting in a few weeks (except for Kathleen Scott who will be playing for Mount Washington Middle School as an eighth-grader before joining up with the Bullitt East program).

This is obviously a high-level collection of girls for this age group. Three of the players – Lindsey Duvall, Raegan Williams and Alyssa Peak – all saw varsity minutes last year with the Bullitt East program. Duvall is the reigning Bullitt County Player of the Year.

Duvall led the East Lady Chargers in this tournament with 17.6 points a game and was also the team’s leading rebounder at 7.6 a game for the eight contests. Williams was second in rebounding at seven a game.

Gajdik is quick to point out that you don’t get to the final eight of an AAU National Tournament with 68 teams on the strength of one player.

“It’s a little deceiving because she can fill it up,” the coach pointed out. “But we have so many other options on this team.  With Alyssa Peak at point guard and then with Raegan Williams rebounding. That gets Lindsey down the floor. She knows how to finish and that is nice.”

In one game, Duvall passed out on the floor from dehydration and did not play the rest of the way. The other girls pushed the margin out bigger than it was when she had been playing.

“It’s great to have her, but the girls are sharp around her,” Gajdik said. “Two years ago they might have questioned what to do (without her on the floor). They don’t worry now if she is not on the floor.”

Other than a 2-0 deficit in the opening minutes of one earlier game, Bullitt East led from the start of every game except for the loss to Mississippi Elite. The East Lady Chargers trailed by six points at halftime of that game, but rallied to pull even early in the third quarter, but could not move ahead. The game was close before Mississippi Elite pulled away late at the free throw line to win 62-47.

Mississippi Elite went on to win the championship with a 55-37 win over a team from Maryland.

“We just made a lot of little mistakes,” Gajdik said. “We left six points out there at the end of the first half that could have made it even at halftime. Then we had a seven or eight point run to tie it up in the third quarter, but then they had a seven or eight point run and it stayed that way.

“We had to foul late and they hit their free throws and we missed some shots,” the coach added. “It was an eight-point game late.”

This game was the worst shooting game of the tournament for the East Lady Chargers. The team made just 17 of 55 shots overall and were a miserable 1 of 12 from beyond the arc. Outside shooting is really not this team’s strength according to Gajdik. This team likes to rebound and then get out and run with the ball in the hands of Peak and Duvall.

Mississippi Elite was the first team that tried to focus defensive pressure on Duvall as they had been able to scout the East Lady Chargers earlier in the tournament. Still, Duvall had 25 points in this game along with ten rebounds. Williams had 12 rebounds.

Pool play was really not a challenge for the East Lady Chargers. The team opened play with a 69-49 win over Georgia Metros Blue and then romped past the Cape Cod Waves 50-18. The final pool play game was a 54-28 win over the Tuscaloosa Warriors.

In bracket play, the East Lady Chargers blew past the James River Blaze 53-29 and then blasted the Maryland Lady Tigers 47-24 to reach the Elite Eight. That was where they were beaten by the Mississippi Elite.

On the final morning of the event, the East Lady Chargers came back to beat the Fusion 54-43. In the fifth-place game, Gajdik’s team got the medal with a 52-43 win over the Minnesota Lady Monarchs.

The only other Kentucky team in the field was the Jaguars. That is a feeder program for Mercy High School, a team in Bullitt East’s district and region so the players will see a lot of each other in the coming years. They played twice this summer with the East Lady Chargers winning both times. The Jaguars won their pool, but then lost in the round of 32.

Gajdik said that his team had a 24-3 record this spring and summer. The other two losses came in the same tournament to ‘traveling’ teams made up of players from multiple schools.

“It was just a great experience,” Gajdik said of making the trip to Florida. “We played teams from California and Alabama and Georgia. We played eight teams from eight different states. It was just a great experience for the girls.”