When Charles Pearson took over as the girls basketball coach at Shawnee High School last summer, he said he inherited a group of girls “with a lot of energy … who sometimes lacked focus in practice or school.”
So Pearson set forth trying to turn those characteristics into a positive.
“We decided we were going to press people,” Pearson said. “You were either going to beat us by 100 or we were going to beat you by 100.”
Pearson’s go-for-broke style paid off this season. The Golden Eagles finished with a 17-9 record after falling to Manual 74-44 on Tuesday in the semifinals of the 25th District Tournament. The 17 victories were the most for Shawnee since an 18-11 mark during the 2004-05 season.
As a result, Pearson was named The Courier-Journal’s Seventh Region Coach of the Year in a vote of the region’s coaches.
The 27-year old Pearson said the honor is “very humbling.”
“I’m sure there are guys who have coached 10 or 15 years who never won it,” Pearson said. “My godfather who just passed away always said I was going to win something special. It’s very surprising.”
Also earning Coach of the Year honors were Butler’s Larry Just and Moore’s Maurice Ponder (co-Sixth Region girls winners), Christian Academy’s Chad Carr (Seventh Region boys) and Fern Creek’s James Schooler (Sixth Region boys).
Seventh Region girls
Pearson received four votes, edging out Sacred Heart’s Donna Moir and Christian Academy’s Perry White (three votes apiece) for the honor.
Pearson, a 2007 Shawnee graduate, had served as an assistant coach for the school’s boys and girls programs before taking over the girls team this season.
While he was pleased with the 17 victories – including an eight-game winning streak prior to the district tournament loss to Manual – he said the Golden Eagles “could have won 21 or 22 games easily” had he not kicked two starters off the team.
Shawnee finished the season with eight players on the roster.
“It’s tough as a first-year coach when you have to establish punishments and you want to set the bar high,” Pearson said. “Unfortunately we lost a couple of girls, but we ended up having other girls step up and give us valuable minutes.”
Shawnee will lose three seniors to graduation, but Pearson expects several more players to join the team next season.
“We’ve already had some girls who didn’t play say they want to play next year,” Pearson said. “When you’re doing something special, it’s easier to get people to want to be a part of that.’
Sixth Region girls
Ponder and Just each received three votes to share the Coach of the Year honor. Fern Creek’s Shanda Miller received two votes.
A former head coach at Shawnee and Waggener, Ponder has led Moore to a 20-7 record and a spot in next week’s regional tournament in his first season with the Mustangs. It’s Moore’s first 20-win season since going 25-6 in 2007-08.
“It definitely surprised me,” Ponder said. “I knew we had some pretty talented kids, but I didn’t see 20 wins. The young ladies just bought into what I was trying to teach.”
Moore is led by junior forward Sage Blue, who averages 14.1 points and 10.2 rebounds per game.
“Every night we have a different kid step up,” Ponder said. “I’ve been doing this 17 years, and this is probably the most bizarre year I’ve ever had. One night one kid will have 16 points, and the next night a different kid will have 16 points. It’s been a roller-coaster ride.”
Just’s Butler squad is 28-2, ranked No. 1 in the state in The Courier-Journal’s Litkenhous Ratings and the favorite to win its third state title in four years.
Just led the Bearettes to a trio of regular-season tournament titles – the Traditional Bank Holiday Classic at Lexington Catholic, the Winterfest Shootout in Sevierville, Tennessee, and the Louisville Invitational Tournament.
Seventh Region boys
Carr won the honor in a landslide, receiving seven votes. Ballard’s Chris Renner (two) was the only other coach to receive more than one vote.
The Centurions are 22-10 after falling to Ballard 73-58 in Thursday’s 28th District final. The 22 victories are a single-season school record, and next week’s trip to the Seventh Region Tournament will be CAL’s first since 1990.
“I’m honored to be Coach of the Year,” said Carr, who is in his third season as head coach. “But in my mind, it’s more about those seniors and the other guys on the team who stepped up and played well. It’s no special thing we did as coaches. They just wanted to get better.”
Carr said that mentality showed after Thursday’s loss to Ballard.
“They were devastated that they lost,” Carr said. “The first year I was here they didn’t have that kind of mentality. If they lost they were like, ‘Oh, well, we lost.’ These guys have raised the bar and don’t want to lose.”
Sixth Region boys
Schooler took the honor with four votes, with Valley’s DeJuan Wheat finishing as the runner-up with two votes.
Schooler’s Tigers are 29-2 and won the first LIT title in program history earlier this season. Ranked No. 4 in the state, Fern Creek is shooting for its first-ever trip to the Sweet 16.
“It’s a blessing, but I couldn’t have done it without these kids,” Schooler said. “We preach to our kids all the time about representing (Jefferson County Public Schools) the right way and showing that no matter where you’re from you can do positive things and put people on your backs. Without our kids buying in and doing those things, none of this would be possible.”
Jason Frakes can be reached at (502) 582-4046 and email@example.com.