McLaughlin, Lady Bulldogs reflect on successful season

One of the best seasons in Bearden girls’ basketball came to an end on Monday, as did the high school career of one of Bearden’s finest athletes. The 49-47 loss to Maryville in the semifinals of the Region 2-AAA Tournament ended the Lady Bulldogs’ historic season. Finishing with a 24-6 record and the regular season and tournament district championships, the Lady Bulldogs are not letting the early postseason exit diminish what they accomplished this year. “I’m extremely proud of the girls,” Coach Justin Underwood said. “What they set out to accomplish this year, just the foundation they’ve set, to go from seventh in the district to first in the district, I couldn’t be prouder.” Few could have predicted the Lady Bulldogs’ tremendous success this year. Many preseason polls placed Bearden near the bottom of the district, due to a young roster and lack of size. “We surpassed my expectations for what we could have done this season,” senior Jai-Jai McLaughlin said. “Being projected to be bottom of the district by the polls, we showed everyone that it doesn’t matter how tall you are, it’s how much heart you play with. “So I’m more than happy where we finished our season, because we did what we came to do.” Because of the youth of the team, the team will only be losing three seniors: McLaughlin, Kike Dwight, and Cozette Gaspard. But even though it may not be a big loss of numbers, their impact on the team will be missed. “We’re still a young team, and it’s going to be very hard to lose those three seniors,” Coach Underwood said. “They did an excellent job; they laid their heart out on the line for us. “And you can’t replace those three, but we did get some valuable minutes out of the younger kids." The loss ends McLaughlin’s impressive high school career. She was a part of the district championship team her freshman year, and this year scored her 1,000th career point and was named district tournament MVP. Above all else, it was McLaughlin’s example and leadership as a four-year starter that helped the young team. Next year will be a testament to what the seniors’ mentoring and the young guns’ playing time in the finished season will mean for the future of Bearden basketball. Erin Walsh, Tyler Carter, and Lexus Norwood all started in important games as sophomores, giving them a head start on the next season. “You can’t simulate that in practice,” Coach Underwood said. “So I think that’s a great experience for them moving forward, and hopefully they’ll take this and put it to work hard and get better." And even though they will be gone next season, the seniors are confident that the team will be left in good hands. “They have the experience most people don’t get until they become a junior or a senior,” McLaughlin said. “So I think they’re more than ready for the season next year, and to come back out, and get a first place trophy.” Aidan Sears is the sports editor for The Bark. Follow The Bark on Twitter @BeardenBARK, and like The Bark (Bearden High School) on Facebook.