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Girls Basketball Player of the Year: Chestatee's Bridgette Kelly

Lady War Eagles' guard led Class AAAA in 3-point shooting

POSTED: March 30, 2014 12:00 a.m.

Thanks to a productive summer, Bridgette Kelly went from a backup point guard to one of the state’s top 3-point shooters.

The 5-foot-6 Chestatee senior spent hours on end in the gym, perfecting her shot from the perimeter in anticipation of the 2013-2014 season. With the Lady War Eagles returning a smaller lineup without a true center, Kelly prepared for a team that relied on superior long-range shooting to win games.

“We would come in the gym in the morning and shoot off the gun,” Kelly said. “Just shooting off the hop and having that same muscle memory over and over again. All we really did was shoot a lot at practice this year, and it really worked for me.”

It worked for everyone on the team, in fact. A team-best 24 wins later, with a Region 8-AAAA championship at hand, Kelly’s 75 3-pointers led Class AAAA and the Lady War Eagles finished as the state’s highest-scoring team from the arc.

For her efforts, Kelly is The Times’ Girls Basketball Player of the Year.

“I was never expecting to make as many threes as I did,” Kelly said. “It was just a really good year for me.”

In her first year as a shooting guard, Kelly finished the season with 17 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game, helping Chestatee not only claim its highest win total but also the team’s first region title. Though traditionally one of the area’s better girls basketball teams, a region title had evaded the Lady War Eagles until this year.

Still, Chestatee’s run to a region title came as a bit of a surprise to opponents, considering the massive turnover from the 2012-2013 team and the Lady War Eagles’ lack of size. They were the smallest team in Region 8-AAAA, and didn’t have someone big enough to play at the post.

So Chestatee coach Web Daniel turned to the perimeter for scoring opportunities. Kelly, the only player who averaged any points from the previous season, became the team’s go-to shooter.

“She worked hard over the summer and she could knock down shots,” Daniel said. “She was outstanding. I did not know how good she was going to be this year.”

Kelly helped the Lady War Eagles make a smooth transition from their traditional, post-heavy style of play to a dynamic shooting team. Previous Chestatee teams usually featured an imposing center, including Maegan Kenimer (now at Brenau University) and her predecessor, Peyton Robertson (now at Young Harris).

This season, Chestatee had no players more than six feet tall, so Daniel made sure his team was prepared to take a lot of shots from outside.

No one benefited from that change quite like Kelly did.

“She basically became our person on the court that kept everything going,” Daniel said. “She was able to drive to the basket when we needed her to, knock down shots, rebound the basketball and pass the ball well. There’s not one aspect of the game she doesn’t do well.”

At times, Kelly was nearly unstoppable. She drained five or more 3-pointers on six different occasions, including a season-best six in a 61-60 double-overtime win over Gilmer on Jan. 25.

That game saw Kelly score 33 points, tying her career best, as Chestatee overcame an early deficit to beat a tough Gilmer team in its own gym.

“We kept turning the ball over,” Kelly said. “Finally we just put our head on straight and said, ‘we’re not losing this game.’ It wasn’t a region game, and I think that was in our head. It was like the game didn’t matter. But it mattered because we wanted to win, and we hated losing.”

The Lady War Eagles went 6-2 the rest of the season, winning a region title in the process. Despite battling an ankle injury late in the season, Kelly didn’t miss a single game and even scored 18 points with five 3-pointers in Chestatee’s loss to Grady in the state playoffs.

According to Daniel, she was playing at only “50 percent” in the playoff game.

“She didn’t want to go out, despite not being 100 percent,” Daniel said. “The other team knew she was hurt, and she still had 18 points and five 3-pointers. If we had a healthy Bridgette Kelly, we still may not have won the ball game, but she would’ve been able to get to the basket more.”

Kelly’s versatility allowed Daniel to construct a game plan that lured the defense out to the perimeter, leaving the inside exposed.

She had the ability to drive effectively to the basket and make layups with ease, undefended. If she drew the defense back to the paint, she could kick the ball back out to Deanna Bradberry, Savanna Long or Kayla Watson, all of whom were also effective 3-point shooters.

“People had to decide to stay in and give up a 3-point shot or stay out,” Daniel said. “We put them in a dilemma and a choice they had to make. That’s how our whole game plan worked — make them have to make a choice.”

Chestatee used that strategy to enjoy a historic season for the program, and a college team will likely do the same in the coming years. Kelly is weighing a pair of offers from LaGrange College and Truett-McConnell College, but hasn’t made a commitment decision.

No matter what she decides, a new uniform in the college ranks won’t make Kelly forget the gym where she perfected her craft from the 3-point line.

“From me being a freshman coming into this program, it was life, basically,” Kelly said. “That’s what we lived for — basketball.

“Knowing that you’re playing for that name on your jersey, and for a coach that loves you so much, and knowing your teammates are your best friends, we always had the time of our lives out there.”


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