By Steve Williams
Bearden High School girls basketball coach Justin Underwood believes his team exceeded preseason expectations and now he’s excited to see how far they can go on the tournament trail.
“I don’t think many people saw us as 24-1 and ranked No. 4 in the state,” said Underwood via email last week. “These young ladies really enjoy each other but have a very focused work ethic about them.”
The Lady Bulldogs captured the District 4-AAA regular season title and the No. 1 seed in the district tourney and also earned an automatic berth in the upcoming Region 2-AAA tournament.
“I think this group has the potential to make a deep run in the postseason,” said Underwood. “In playoff basketball you have to be ready every night and have a little luck here and there.”
Bearden’s starters are Trinity Lee, a 5-8 junior; Jalia Arnwine, a 5-6 senior and captain; Grace van Rij, a 6-2 junior; Isabel Soldner, a 6-1 senior and captain; and Shekinah McLaughlin, a 5-5 sophomore.
Key reserves include Jakiyah Davis, a 6-2 freshman post; and Tytiaira Spikes, a 5-8 sophomore wing.
Lee, Arnwine and Rij were named to the All-District 4-AAA team, while Soldner, Davis and Spikes received honorable mention.
Underwood says “balance and leadership” have been strengths of his team.
“We have a great mix of inside presence and outside threats,” he noted. “These young ladies play so hard for each other. The seniors do a fantastic job leading our program and setting our expectations very high.”
Bearden’s lone loss in the regular season was to Hardin Valley Academy. Underwood feels his team has responded well since that setback.
“That was the first opportunity for some girls in our locker room to see how they deal with adversity from a loss,” he said. “Although we have had some very close, tough games, we have found a way to win, which I think is important this time of year.”
NOTHING’S CHANGED: As District 3-AA tourney time neared last week, John Fisher, head coach of Fulton’s highly regarded team, said: “We will just be trying to win every game and play as hard as we can. The expectations do not change.
“I think we have improved and hope for continued improvement. A lot of the post-season has to do with matchups.
“It’s very difficult to make it to the state tournament, but I think we have the ability to make it. You always have to have some breaks fall your way. Hopefully, we will put ourselves in a good position to get there.”
After district play, Fulton hopes to advance in the Region 2-AA tourney. Austin-East will host the region semifinals and finals.
The Lady Falcons are led by senior post and University of Kentucky signee Keke McKinney and also count on junior Janae Fuqua, senior Indya Daggs, junior Lay Lay Manning, sophomore Tilia Tinsley, junior Kiyah Latham and sophomore Kyeisha Dalton.
TITLE GAMES: District finals will be this week. The 4-AAA girls finals will be tonight at Hardin Valley, with the boys finals Tuesday night. Clinton will host the 3-AAA girls and boys finals Tuesday night.
The District 3-AA girls finals will be tonight at A-E, with the boys finals on Tuesday night. The 4-AA girls and boys finals will be played Tuesday night at Alcoa.
District 3-A, which includes Grace Christian, will have its girls finals Tuesday night and boys finals on Wednesday night.