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Lady Gators ready to tip off

The Bulloch Academy girls’ basketball team kicks off its 2012-13 season today as the Lady Gators welcome eight teams to their newly-renovated gym for the seventh annual Lady Gator Classic.

Bulloch takes on Robert Toombs Christian Academy from Lyons at 7 p.m. in the tournament’s second game. Hilton Head Christian and Frederica from St. Simons Island open the tournament at 5:30 p.m. while Pinewood Christian Academy from Bellville and Crisp Academy from Cordele battle at 8:30 p.m.

The round-robin tournament continues Wednesday (two games) and Thursday (three games). Other teams involved in the Classic are David Emanuel Academy from Stillmore, Brentwood High School from Sandersville, Trinity Christian School from Dublin and Tattnall Square Academy from Macon. Admission is $6.

The Lady Gators had a banner year in 2012, winning a region championship for the first time in 32 years, making a deep run in the 2012 Class AAA state playoffs and ending the season with record-setting 24-6 mark.

But three major players (Haley Burke, Taylor Collins and Amelia Akins) graduated from the squad, leaving BA head coach Paul Webb with huge holes to fill.

Haley Burke, a quick guard who played like a tough forward, averaged 12.0 points per game, was a 60 percent free-throw shooter and pulled down 4.4 rebounds per game. She also led the team in three-point shots attempted and made.

Taylor Collins, the team’s enforcer in the middle and an All-State and All-Region player, was the second-leading rebounder (7.2 rpg) and the second-leading scorer, averaging 10.1 ppg.

Amelia Akins came off the bench and provided defensive sparks when the Lady Gators needed it.

"We’re gonna miss those girls," said Webb, "but it’s time for this year’s group to fill that void. One of the things that we’ve got to find is how to replace Taylor’s toughness. All of the coaches around the region always talked about how mentally tough she was. We’ve got to find someone to replace that."

Although Bulloch is without two of its top three players from last year’s squad, the Lady Gators marquee player returns for her senior season.

Anna Newton led the squad in scoring (13.7 ppg) and rebounding (8.0 ppg). She scored 410 points on the season and was a 74 percent free-throw shooter (96 of 129). Newton also broke the magical 1,000-point career barrier late in the year.

Traditionally, Webb hustles his players in and out a good bit so most of his girls have seen a lot of action.

Senior Lauren Dennard will return at point guard with classmates Mary Margaret Reeves and Marianna Peebles and sophomore Ashley Burke starting at guards.

Juniors Ashlee Lanier, Danielle Atkinson, Madison Poole, Mary Kate Thomas and Brooke Gilbert move into important roles and should see considerable action. The talented sophomore trio of Burke, Page Spence and Pate Lomax round out Webb’s nucleus of returning players.

"A lot of them played AAU basketball during the summer to improve," said Webb. "They had a very good summer."

Newcomers Miriam Rosenberger (an exchange student from Germany), Chelsea Oglesby and Destiny Burke should also work into the mix.

"There is going to be some really intense competition for playing time," said Webb. "I feel like our girls will rise to the challenge and compete every day in practice for the chance to play. The biggest thing we are gonna have this year is depth. I think I have a lot of people who can fill in our voids but we really won’t know until we start playing games."