Friday, April 16, 2010

Bledsoe staying home to play for TexAnns

Sports Editor

Brianna Bledsoe isn't a politician running for re-election, but don't be shocked if her fans are heard shouting "four more years."

Bledsoe, a Stephenville High School basketball standout, has decided to stay home and play for Tarleton State University.

"I've grown up watching Tarleton play, and I've always wondered 'what if I could play here?'" says the 5-5 guard. "And I don't know if I was ready to leave Stephenville. It's home to me."

The senior recently completed her decorated prep career, culminating in a spot on the Texas Girls Coaches Association 4A All-State team. She led Stephenville to the regional quarterfinals, where the Honeybees were eliminated by eventual state champ Mansfield Timberview.

But it was the game before - in the area finals against Springtown - that Bledsoe wrote the final chapter of her Stephenville basketball legacy.

The Honeybees had built a big lead and looked to be on cruise control until Springtown rallied to pull within eight midway through the fourth quarter. But Bledsoe displayed all her offensive tools in a quick flash - she drilled a 3-point bomb, knocked down two free throws and attacked the basket on her way to hitting one of her trademark off-balance runners - for a 7-0 run that restored a 15-point advantage and ended all doubt concerning the outcome.

It was Stephenville's first area championship since 2005, and to say Bledsoe was the key is a little like sayingLeBron James is Cleveland's best player.

The senior averaged right at 20 points per game including 22.3 in three playoff contests. She hit 89 percent from thefree throw line and 42 percent from the arc. Most impressive, however, was her consistency - she scored 10 or more points in 33 of 34 games to lead the Bees to an impressive 25-9 record.

Those numbers earned her Offensive Player of the Year honors in District 8-4A.

"She's been our MVP for the last two years," Stephenville head coach Alan Thorpe said. "She's the type of kid you really enjoy having on the floor because she wants the ball in her hands in pressure situations. The kids around her played their roles good enough to get her the ball in good situations, and when that happens she's usually going to capitalize."

Thorpe can sum up why he believes Bledsoe will succeed at the collegiate level in one word - competitiveness.

"It's all about her competitiveness," Thorpe said. "She's a fierce competitor who hates to lose."

Intangibles such as that are why Tarleton head coach Ronnie Hearne is excited to have Bledsoe on board.

"The No. 1 thing I've seen in her is the way she handles herself on the court," Hearne said. "I've seen her play against teams like Timberview the last two years and never saw any intimidation in her. She handles pressure well."

It doesn't hurt that those intangibles are combined with plenty of talent.

"She's a good 3-point shooter and a tremendous free throw shooter, and not only is she great at the line, but she gets a lot of free throws because she attacks the basket and she doesn't mind contact," Hearne said. "That's a big bonus with her because most high school kids don't like a lot of contact, but she fights through it and understands that getting to the free throw line is a big part of her game."

Hearne also believes Bledsoe will fit in perfectly with her new teammates.

"She spent a lot of time with them on her official visit and blended right in," Hearne said. "It also helps that she came to our camp last year."

Bledsoe says fitting in with the TexAnns seemed to come naturally.

"I met a couple of them at the Tarleton camp last summer, and when I was on my visit they were really nice. It was like I had known them forever," Bledsoe says. "It's a great group of girls."

Now, as Bledsoe counts down the days to her high school graduation, she is working to prepare herself to continue her playing career.

"I've been working out with (high school classmate and teammate) Mara (Christian) a lot," Bledsoe said, "and I'm planning to work out with some of the Tarleton girls this summer."

While excited to begin a new phase in her playing career, Bledsoe is also holding on to cherished memories of her high school success.

"The best thing was just playing with my best friends and getting to the playoffs," she said. "I hadn't been to the playoffs before this year so it felt great to get there."

Hearne, whose team is fresh off its best season since joining the NCAA, hopes Bledsoe can help the TexAnns continue their recent success.

Given that opportunity, Bledsoe plans to do what she does best - capitalize.

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