Bearettes have five seniors headed to NCAA programs
Returns are supposed to be for after Christmas, but for girls basketball programs in the Sixth Region this is the season of returns.
Butler returns locked and loaded after winning its second state title in three years and fifth overall in the program’s illustrious history. Two senior stars who missed the start of last season, Bullitt East guard Lindsey Duvall and Mercy forward Elizabeth Anderson, are back and healthy. And Iroquois, which forfeited its final seven games last season, is back along with former Miss Basketball A’dia Mathies leading the way as head coach.
But enough about last year, at least according to Butler coach Larry Just.
“Being the defending champion is based on last year, not this year,” said Just, who has five college-bound seniors in Teri Goodlett (Eastern Kentucky), Tasia Jeffries (Saint Louis), Jaelynn Penn (Indiana), Janna Lewis (Tennessee State) and Bre Torrens (Bellarmine). “We feel like we have a quality program here at Butler, just like many others in the state and just like many other years. Our focus is on controlling what we can and playing as well as we can. We feel like we have good talent with a lot of experience, which we hope will help us compete well this year.”
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Penn, a top candidate for Kentucky’s Miss Basketball award and last season’s Sweet 16 MVP, leads the Bearettes, who are ranked No. 1 in the state in The Courier-Journal’s preseason poll of coaches and No. 21 in the nation in the USA Today preseason Super 25.
“Jaelynn Penn in my opinion is the best complete player in the state,” Just said. “She can affect the game in every area, whether it is in scoring, rebounding, passing, defending. There are many other good players in the state, but I will say that I am glad that Jaelynn is on my team.”
Jeffries, Goodlett, Lewis and Torrens are seasoned veterans, and 6-foot-2 junior Molly Lockhart and sophomore JaNae Owens will provide depth for the Bearettes.
“(Penn) certainly is an important ingredient to our team and program, but I am fortunate to have many other quality players,” Just said. “Together, they have proven themselves over the last three years to be some of the best across the state.”
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As talented as the Bearettes are, they’ll have to compete in one of the state’s most top-heavy regions, with Bullitt East and Mercy ranked among the state’s top 20.
“My preparation each year starts with our region,” Just said. “I feel like there are quality teams at the top of our region that can compete well across the state. This year is no different.”
Mercy was the regional runner-up last season and will try to knock Butler from the top spot this season.
“As far as being the dark horse, we do not buy into the rankings too much,” said Jaguars coach Keith Baisch, who has three players with college interest of their own in Anderson (6-foot-2), 6-3 junior post Danielle Feldkamp and 5-9 sophomore guard Raquael Reese. “We preach to the kids all the time it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.”
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Bullitt East also has one of the state’s top Miss Basketball contenders in Duvall, a University of Louisville signee, but must overcome several injuries.
A season after Duvall’s knee surgery (because of a non-cancerous growth) kept her sidelined until the end, the Chargers are banged up again. Starting senior center Raegan Williams and reserve senior post Abby Rodgers both have torn ACLs. Another starter, Kirstie Henn, is coming off ankle surgery. Starting senior point guard Alyssa Peak recently had her tonsils removed, and junior Amber Higdon is expected to miss the start of season because of mononucleosis.
But Just still expects the Chargers to be dangerous.
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“Lindsey Duvall is an excellent player that has really grown and matured her game throughout her high school career,” Just said. “It was unfortunate for her to miss much of last season with her injury, but I hope she will stay healthy this year and for her college career at U of L.”
In the Penn-Duvall battle for Miss Basketball honors, Baisch leaned toward Penn.
“They are both extremely good players,” Baisch said. “They both do a bunch of great things for their team. I would have to give the edge to Penn though because of their team’s success. They won the state last year, and that’s what all of us are shooting for.”