New look Lady Bulldogs flying high halfway through season

Jacob Steimer

Bearden’s girls basketball team starts just two seniors and has little height on the roster, but that hasn’t stopped the Lady Bulldogs from getting off to one of their best starts in years. “We all just play ball the whole time,” senior Jai Jai McLaughlin said. “We’re better than we were last year.” Kids play ball too though, and a group of third graders wouldn’t travel to play regional power Heritage and come back home with a win. Or outlast rival Farragut 37-29 in a grueling effort on Friday. “I think the girls have just played really hard,” first-year Coach Justin Underwood said. “They’ve given great effort.” Coach Underwood has given some effort too in leading the Lady Bulldogs (13-2) to the top of the district standings. “He puts a lot of emphasis on the little things we can do and not just the big things,” senior Kike Dwight said. Coach Underwood learned how to coach the game from Pat Summitt while being on the University of Tennessee’s girls practice team. He then practiced his craft for four years at Heritage before studying under Coach Richard Cowan last year, in his introduction to Bearden basketball. “I have had an opportunity to learn under numerous successful coaches,” Coach Underwood said. “Last year laid the groundwork for the success we’ve been able to enjoy this year. When you go through adversity, then you truly have an opportunity to enjoy the success.” Implementing what he has learned has meant putting in an offense tailor-made for his short line-up. “We run a lot of motion offense, screening, cutting, and just trying to spread the floor,” Coach Underwood said. They don’t like to get into the offense whenever possible, though. “We try to utilize our speed and quickness,” Coach Underwood said. “The girls like to play in transition, so anytime we can get out and run, that’s usually when we play the best.” This style of ball is just what McLaughlin likes to see. “I prefer running the ball than stopping to set up a play,” McLaughlin said. She does, however, miss playing with skilled post players such as Ellen Smith from the class of 2010. “I can’t throw the ball in (the post) and just expect someone to catch it now,” McLaughlin said. With the shorter lineup comes more responsibility for everyone on the floor. As the offense is one that usually only leaves one girl in the post at any given time, everybody has to rebound. “It makes us play harder; since we’re little, we have to be more aggressive and box out,” Dwight said. Added Coach Underwood: “If we stick to our defensive principles and the girls keep playing together and sharing the ball well… we’ve shown we can compete with the best." That they can, but the season after the break is when things will start to shake out in the district standings. After all, Bearden went into the break last year 3-0 in the district, and it didn’t end so well for the 2010-2011 Lady Bulldogs. They think this year will be a much different story.