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Lady Gators sit atop GISA state rankings
BA Basketball
Bulloch Academy's Sophie Strickland, top, splits Notre Dame defenders Jacqueline Gilbertson, left, andSteffi Hernandez during the third quarter Friday. - photo by By SCOTT BRYANT

The Bulloch Academy girls are currently ranked #1 in the state in GISA. The Gators have a 16-2 record, and have beaten some of the top teams in GISA in getting to 16-2 including Hilton Head Christian (16-2), Trinity (15-2) and Westfield (12-3). 

The Gators won back-to-back state championships in 2014 and 2015, but have struggled a bit the past few seasons. The Gators were 9-11 in 2019, and lost in the first round of the state playoffs. 

“Last year was frustrating for us,” said senior Regan Ellis. “I feel like we had the talent, but something was missing, and we just didn’t play well as a team.”

One of the problems for the Gators has been continuity. Bulloch Academy has had four different head coaches over the past four years. This year the Gators brought back Chandler Dennard who had a successful run as the boys head coach from 2006-2017.

Having athletes has not been a problem at Bulloch Academy, as many of the same girls on the basketball team made it to the state championship in softball a year ago, and play multiple sports. This year Dennard has managed to use that athleticism to his advantage with a pressure defense, and fast paced offense.

“I have really tried to stress the importance of defense,” Dennard said. “I think I have seen the main growth of the team from the mental side. They have really matured through the season, and we have gotten a lot better on the offensive end.”

“I have told them from the beginning that everybody is a piece of the puzzle,” Dennard said. “They are starting to figure out their roles, which may be a lot different than what they once were. Regan Ellis was more of a perimeter player, and now she’s being used more in the post. Abby Newton was the leading scorer, and now I need her to facilitate more. She’s still not 100 percent healthy. We still need Abby to score, but I’m okay if we win and she had more assists than points.”

One of the other keys to success is the depth on this years team. It may not always show up in the box score, but the Gators have some talented freshmen that are really helping push the starters during practice. 

“Our depth is definitely one of our strengths,” said senior Abby Newton. “The young girls have really helped us in practice to get better.”

This week the Gators face off against their biggest rival in the Pinewood Patriots (15-5) Tuesday night at home. Pinewood has not lost to Bulloch Academy in four years, and won two games last year over the Gators in overtime.

“We haven’t beaten Pinewood since I was in eighth grade,” said Newton. “So it’s been a long time coming, and we are ready for it. I think it has been a mental thing for us the past three years, but this year we are definitely ready for them.”

The Gator softball team faced a similar situation as they had a three year drought, but last year the Gators finally snapped that streak. Many of those same players feel like it’s time to do it again, only on the basketball court.

“We know what it felt like to finally beat them in softball, and it gave us a lot of confidence,” said senior J.B. Marsh. “It really kick started our season beating them in softball. I feel like if we can get them at our place Tuesday, it can continue the great year we are having.”

“The five years prior to Pinewood going on the roll, Bulloch Academy owned Pinewood,” Dennard said. “They have been on a roll the past three years or so, and that is a mental hurdle we are going to have to overcome Tuesday night. This is also just a huge game because of how tough our region is, and how important it is to protect home court.”

Bulloch Academy and Pinewood are scheduled to tip off Tuesday night at 6:00.