Thursday, February 28, 2008

Mecklenburg Girl Power Continues At Butler

It's amazing how much better Mecklenburg County girls basketball has gotten - and so fast.

We always had Barbara Nelson and her state championship-winning machine at Providence Day.

But until South Mecklenburg's breakthrough season in 2006, we'd not had a public school state champion in 20 years, when Andrea Stinson led North Mecklenburg to a championship in Chapel Hill.

In between those championship teams, Mecklenburg County girls basketball wasn't considered much of a threat.

That's changed recently.

I'm not sure we'll have a champion this year, with powerhouses like Greensboro Grimsley, a state finalist last year, and nationally ranked Raleigh Wakefield, waiting deeper in the playoffs for Mecklenburg's best.
But, for a change, the county is seriously in the hunt. Five teams - West Charlotte, Charlotte Catholic, Butler, East Meck and North Meck - will play in sectional championships Friday.

And there's lots of teams getting better.

I saw another one Wednesday in the Butler Bulldogs.

They didn't play well in a 52-50 win over Morganton Freedom, but they did - as the cliche goes - survive and advance.

The Bulldogs, like so many other good teams in town, are young. The leading scorer, Celeste Stewart, is a junior. The 6-3 post player Clair Watkins is a sophomore.

Next year, the Bulldogs get 5-6 guard Jessica Freeman and her 20 points per game back. Freeman's junior season ended in December with an injured knee.

With those three, all Division I recruits, Butler will be as good as any team in North Carolina next year.

And right now, even without Freeman, the Bulldogs are not far off.
Credit coach Stephanie Butler for all that. She grew up in South Carolina and played for Seneca High and later at Southern Wesleyan University.
In three years, she's slowly built Butler into an elite program, at least locally.

The Bulldogs were 20-6 her first year, 19-10 last year and are 26-3 this season, heading into Friday's N.C. 4A sectional championship game at West Charlotte. Her teams have won three straight Southwestern 4A conference tournament championships.

This year, the Bulldogs won a share of their first regular-season championship, tying with East Mecklenburg, and have set a school-record for victories.

In April, the Observer will hand out its awards for the best players and coaches, and I'm pretty sure I can take the suspense out of one of the awards right now.

To do what Butler's done without one of the city's top three players has been, well, amazing.

"It hurts not having 20 points on the floor," she said. "That's what Jessica gives us. She's an outside threat. She handles the ball very well. It's scary to think of what it would be like with her now."

Well, Butler's pretty scary right now. And they have their coach to thank for that.

Langston Wertz Jr: 704-358-5133;


Anonymous said...

Langston so good you're giving props to Coach Butler. She is so very deserving of everything her Bulldogs have accomplished!