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MOUNT WASHINGTON - Few Bullitt East Lady Charger basketball teams have improved more over a three month season than the 2010-2011 squad that just completed a 25-9 season and came up a point short in the Sixth Region Championship contest.
This was a team that had only one starter back from a year ago, but that still had high expectations with sill and experienced back-ups ready to step into key roles. That all changed in the late summer when senior Jessica Philpott went down with a serious knee injury.
The season then started with two losses in the first three games including a setback to Bullitt Central and a 23-point loss at home to Butler.
Head coach Chris Stallings had scrapped the team’s offense after two bad showings in the pre-season scrimmages and went with freshman Emily Fryman at point guard. Bullitt East then made steady improvement from that point, winning a holiday tournament at Allen County-Scottsville before picking up a first-round win in the Girls’ Louisville Invitational Tournament. The Lady Chargers then added a third-consecutive 24th District title before falling to Butler 40-39 in the regional final.
“As a coach you want to see that improvement out of any team,” Stallings said after returning from the state tournament. “You want to play our best at the end. I think this group did that.
“We had highs and lows early in the season,” the coach added. “We had to challenge our and we had to get better. We came up just a little short. We would like to have gone one step further.”
The first sign of life came just before Christmas when Bullitt East turned back a strong Christian Academy team by a 67-50 count. The Lady Chargers then won seven of eight games in the two holiday tournaments and the pieces were in place for continued improvement.
“We had to change the offense after the second scrimmage after we didn’t perform well at all,” said Stallings, who will coach the Girl’s Kentucky All-Stars this summer. “The girls did a phenomenal job and so did my coaching staff. We did a good job going in a different direction.
“In the CAL game the kids saw how explosive offensively we could be,” the coach added. “We shot it well that night and we scored inside that night.”
The inside/outside combination really became Bullitt East’s calling card this season. Inside, 6-2 senior Lindey Young had a big season and defenses could not collapse around her because of the outside shooting of junior Nikole Isabel.
Now, Stallings and his coaching staff have to rebuild again as the program loses four seniors who were part of 96 wins over the last four seasons. Young and Philpott will move on as will forwards Meredith Polson and Whitney Stansbury.
Young will make a college decision soon. She is being pursued by Union, Lincoln Memorial and Campbellsville. Philpott, despite her injury that kept her out of any competitive situations this winter, is getting interest from Asbury and Transylvania and could even get a chance to walk-on at Bellarmine or Morehead.
Stallings said that Polson is still deciding if she wants to play at the next level while Stansbury has an academic ride to Eastern Kentucky University.
Again, Bullitt East has to rebuild. The future will be a little bit of a doughnut situation as Isabel will head up the team as a senior while there will be only a handful of other seniors and juniors in the program next year. The bulk of the players will be sophomores and freshmen.
Bullitt East’s junior-varsity team had a 10-9 record, but neither Isabel nor Fryman played with that group. The other strong group was the freshman team that posted a 19-2 mark despite Fryman played mostly with the varsity. There were times even varsity back-up Courtney Pfister and Taylor Blaine did not play with the freshmen.
“They are going to get minutes and will be counted on,” Stallings said of the freshmen and eighth-graders that made up that freshman team. “We didn’t play our (varsity) rotation as big as it has been in recent years. There are three spots open so there are a lot of opportunities for someone to step into those jobs.
“There will be a lot of competition,” the coach added. “That is a good thing. We have had kids step up and step into new roles. We’ll find out who it will be over the summer and fall.”
The biggest out-of-season change is the one that moves the Lady Chargers into the 28th District along with 2010 state champion Mercy as well as Fern Creek, Jeffersontown and Whitefield Academy. Four of those teams played in either the Sixth or Seventh Region Tournaments this season, but only two can make that trip next season.
As of last Monday, Stallings had only one game scheduled with either Bullitt Central or North Bullitt. He wasn’t confident that the two-game series would continue if the schools are not in the same district. The big showdown game with Mercy could not be worked into a Friday night spot and so will be played on a Tuesday.
The Bullitt County Challenge will continue for a fourth season and will return to Bullitt East in January. Stallings was still open about his pre-Christmas Tournament but is set to head to Florida (Fort Walton Beach) between the two holidays for a tournament.
Some of the team members are playing AAU basketball this spring and there will be conditioning and weight-lifting after spring break.
Stallings will be busy with the Kentucky All-Stars before they take the court June 10 and 11 in Louisville and Indianapolis. The next Monday will be the Lady Charger Summer Camp that he runs with former Bullitt East head coach Jerry Troutman (June 13-17). The next week will be the Bullitt East Summer Shoot-out before the ‘dead period’.
Bullitt East will then go to a team camp in July.