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Lady Gators running towards title repeat

Exhaustion. Mentally or physically, we all go through it. For some, it’s an uncomfortable state of being frequented as sparingly as possible.

    For others, it means the beginning of the end. But for the Lady Gators of Bulloch Academy exhaustion is the norm. Not only are the Lady Gators familiar with exhaustion on a first-name basis, the team lives with it. They thrive in it.
    It’s Bulloch Academy’s comfortability with exhaustion that could propel this team to a third consecutive GISA AAA state championship.
    “We put them through pretty rigorous conditioning and they are there for their teammates the whole time,” said BA assistant girls coach Beth Burke.
    Burke, known by some of her players as “the mean coach,” is a major part of the Lady Gators’ conditioning program. A former BA basketball player, Burke believes getting her team physically prepared for competition is not just part of the game, but a way of life.
    So what’s it like to go through a day of practice under the watchful eye of Coach Burke?
    Try running a mile in under eight minutes—but that’s just the warmup. Then it’s on to stretching and jump rope exercises followed by regular practice. Midway through practice the Lady Gators perform conditioning drills including pushups, squat thrust, leg exercises, core exercises and a several variations of timed sprints. After that, it’s back to practice to finish full-court team drills. Sometimes, Burke will throw in additional sprints at the end of practice just for good measure.
    “We switched the conditioning to the middle of practice. We want them to be tired when we do team drill,” Burke said. “In a game if we need a stolen ball and a layup and they’re at their limit, we know they have it in them.”
    The transition to becoming accustomed to exhaustion on a regular basis isn’t an easy one. Just ask Bulloch Academy’s starting guard Amber Robins. Robins, who transferred to BA this season, said it was hard at initially—especially the one-mile run.
    “It’s hard for players that aren't used to it. Amber, she struggled and she couldn’t hardly make it. It’s a whole team effort. You can’t quit when your whole team runs with you. Some of the faster girls, after they finished, would go back and help the other girls run,” Burke said. “It’s funny. If you put yourself in Amber’s position and you know your teammates are willing to run with you, you don’t want to quit.”
    The Lady Gators (20-4) are coming off a disappointing 65-56 loss to rivals Pinewood in the 2-AAA region championship game.
    The loss means Bulloch Academy will travel to Camilla in the state playoffs to face No. 3 seed out of Region 4-AAA, Augusta Prep Today at 5:30 p.m.
    The road trip, though arduous, doesn’t seem to phase BA’s players and coaches. Head coach Paul Webb said his team has been successful in the state tournament in previous years traveling on the road.
    Webb said one of his team’s strengths over the years has been their mental and physical preparation.
    Burke, a 14-year coach with Bulloch Academy, said she hopes that her players take the lessons of exercise and fitness with them after graduation.
    “I’ve always been a runner my whole life. I’m just trying to instill that in the girls. Hopefully, when we finish running, they decided to stay in shape,” Burke said. “Some players will come back and say they hated running in high school but now they run everyday.”
    The Lady Gators have sat towards the top of the GISA girls basketball mountain. In the past five seasons Bulloch Academy holds a record of 130-25, including four region championships, two state titles and a state Final Four appearance.
    However, the Lady Gators aren’t focused on the past. The goal this season is to win another state title. Besides, keeping pace with Bulloch Academy’s prior accolades can be exhausting.

    Horace Holloman may be reached at (912) 489-9408.