Stephney battles back from torn ACL to anchor Bearden in the paint


Taylor A. Johnson

Anajae Stephney gets position in the paint, while Trinity Lee drives to the basket.

Tyler Hotz, Staff Writer

Last season, talented seniors led Bearden to a successful 25-8 record; however, one of their best rising stars had to sit on the sidelines and watch her team win without her.

Junior Anajae Stephney suffered a season-ending ACL tear last December against William Blount. This year, she is back and looks to not only get back to her former state, but also expand on her great potential.

“Losing Anajae last year was definitely a hit because of what she offers inside,” Coach Justin Underwood said. “We are still getting used to those spots of what she brings to the table.

“She has come a long way. A lot of people don’t realize that there are two aspects to an ACL injury, which are the physical as well as the mental. She still has a ways to go as in trusting her body.”

Stephney will need to be a key contributor again on Friday night when the Lady Bulldogs (9-2, 3-0 District 4-AAA) travel to Hardin Valley for a 6 p.m. tipoff. The boys will follow at 7:30.

“I have a lot of improving to do,” Stephney said. “I know it is not going to be easy coming back from it, but I am doing a lot better quicker than I thought I would.”

Stephney has gotten off to a fast start this season, averaging 10.5 points and grabbing nine rebounds a game. While starting all 11 games this season, she has posted five double-digit games in points and also rebounds. Her best performance to date is a 22-point, 13-rebound outing in a 58-39 win over Campbell County.

The Lady Hawks (7-3, 1-2) will be without one of their best post players when Stephney and the Lady Bulldogs visit their gym Friday.

“For us [against Hardin Valley], we are just trying to see if we can come out and put two good halves together,” Coach Underwood said. “And defensively, if we can limit teams to one shot.

“Boxing out on both sides of the ball has been an emphasis for us.”

One of the interesting parts about Stephney’s game is her versatility. At the high school level, she is considered a post; however, she has many skills that make her well-fit for playing outside on the wing. Coach Underwood comments on her having the ability to step outside with her great mid-range jumper.

The work on the court with her teammates has also improved this season through hard work and determination.

“She has a great work ethic,” senior Madison Rice said. “She works hard everyday in practice.”

Another interesting aspect about Stephney is that she is still new to Bearden High School. Last season was her first year at Bearden, after moving to Knoxville from Middlesboro, Kentucky.

“She has gotten used to the girls this year,” Coach Underwood said. “Going through preseason and summer ball she now knows them a lot better.”

Added Stephney: “They encourage a lot. We encourage each other, and we are always there for each other. We push each other everyday in practice.”