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MOUNT WASHINGTON - Over the last four seasons, the Bullitt East Lady Chargers have been in the mix for being one of the top teams in the Sixth Region.
Twice in that time frame they have reached the final game of the Sixth Region Tournament, losing by a combined six points. Last year the team was up by four points in the final minutes of the semi-final contest against Butler, but lost on a basket with two seconds remaining. Butler went on to win the Sixth regional title and reached the quarter-finals of the state tournament.
A year ago, the Lady Chargers were not as strong as some other seasons. At one point they were 3-7 and despite a four-game losing streak in January, the team closed with a rush to get to 15-17.
This year, the Lady Chargers are ready for a faster start and plan on being even more ready for the second half of the season.
"I really like this team," long-time head coach Chris Stallings said last week. "I like the direction we're going. I like the day-to-day effort. They have a workman like attitude that they have brought to work every day. As long as they do that we'll get better."
At this point, Stallings has 12 players on his varsity roster, a grouping that includes a pair of eighth-graders. Other than junior guard Taylor Blair, who is at this point with a broken finger, the veteran coach expects to use all the players who dress on game night.
"Like I told them, we would like to play that many, especially early," the coach said. "As long as they play hard and do good things, we'll keep doing that."
Stallings has used deep benches before so this should not pose any problems. In fact, that 12-player roster could change at times.
"We left room to add to that," Stallings said. "Nothing is set in stone. We'll let peoples' play dictate that."
During the summer, this group got off to a slow start, but they have been picking up speed since that time.
"After the first week or two of the summer we've been pretty pleased with their work ethic," Stallings said. "It took that time for them to realize they are not super young.
"I'm been pretty pleased how consistent they have been and the approach they are taking," the coach added. "That's a credit to the girls."
The group hasn't always been together because the two eighth-graders, Lindsey Duvall and Raegan Williams, were busy with their middle school teams. Those two have each already played at least 35 games this fall, Duvall with Eastside and Williams at Mount Washington.
The two really didn't start working out with the Bullitt East varsity until Nov. 16, the day after the middle school season closed.
On the 16th, Bullitt East scrimmaged for the first time when they took on Glasgow, a team that reached the state tournament last season.
"They were bigger than us," Stallings said. "That helped us play a little faster pace.
"Coming out of the first scrimmage, there were a lot of positives but we have things to work on" the coach added. "But, there were more positives than negatives."
One thing that is making the pre-season run smoothing is that the Lady Chargers return starting point guard Emily Fryman who already has two seasons as the starter under belt.
"She has been through a lot of battles and a lot of ups and downs," Stallings said. "She has started this fall better than last fall and hopefully that will help us get off to a better start."
A year ago, Duvall came off the bench to spell Fryman. While she can do that again this season, Stallings wants her ready to also play either of the wing spots which will open up more chances for her to be on the floor.
"I don't want to limit her to that one spot," Stallings said of his talented middle schooler.
The two wing spots will be manned by senior Cady Cornell and junior Taylor Blain. Blain was slowed by some strep throat but she is back with the team now. Both Cornell and Blain can score when they get on a streak.
Stallings will also be looking to use senior Taylor Williamson and junior Kaleigh Sharpe as wing players. Blair will also play on the wing when she returns.
"We have to have more consistent play out of Blain," Stallings said. "She has a good shot. She has to do that with confidence."
Inside, the Lady Chargers will use 5-10 sophomore Kylee Willis along with 5-9 junior Courtney Pfister Willis is the younger sister of Derek Willis, the top-rated boys' player in Kentucky this season who plays for the boys' team.
Depth up front for the red and gold will come from senior Sara Stevens and junior Mackenzie Bass. In addition, Stallings will be looking to get Williams some important minutes.
"Her age and strength might not match up, but she has a lot of skills," Stallings said of the 5-10 Williams. "She played there this summer for us. She got used to that."
Bullitt East once again faces a challenging schedule. The early highlight comes on Tuesday Dec. 4 when the Lady Chargers host Butler, a pre-season top-10 team in the state.
"They have to get the mentality to respect everyone and fear no one," Stallings said. "The experience we had last year was the kids went into games nervous. That can't go on this year."
The Lady Chargers open the season on Tuesday at home against Presentation.
The Bullitt East coaching staff has not changed this season. Stallings will once again be assisted by his sister, Christal Scott, as well as Steve Gajdik. Scott coaches the Mount Washington Lady Generals. There are also two volunteer assistant coaches, Albert Thompson and Samantha Downs, who both also coach at Eastside.