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Bearden signs to play basketball at Lenoire-Rhyne
Karlie Bearden

Lady Tiger Karlie Bearden is the first to admit she wasn't always the basketball player she is today.

"I started playing when I was six, I wasn't very good," she said.

Then she fell in love with the sport and nothing could hold her back from achieving her dream to play at the collegiate level.

Last week, she signed commitment papers to continue her basketball career at Lenoire-Rhyne University, a small Division 2 school that reminds her of home.

"The coaches are great. The team is very welcoming, very encouraging to all of us coming in to be there. It's going to be a lot of fun," she said.

Bearden made Dawson County's varsity team as a freshman, the same year the team played for the state championship.

"That was really good for me, and I got to play with my older sister [Kacie], which was a lot of fun, because we had never played together," she said.

The next year, the Lady Tigers made it to the Sweet Sixteen.

"We weren't supposed to make it that far that year, but we defeated the odds and that was awesome," she said.

Then last season, the girls were eliminated with a heart breaking 70-64 loss at Laney High School in the Elite Eight.

"But that was fine with us, because we won together and we lost together," Bearden said.

Those friendships are part of what has kept her pushing.

"I fell in love with the sport and that you have a team of sisters, and you always have people behind you," she said.

With 10 seniors that have been playing together since they were little kids, Bearden said the Lady Tigers are a strong and fast team that knows how each other thinks.

"We know each other's tendencies, and we work really well together, so I think we'll do well," she said.

The team is now 2-0 with decisive wins last week against Pickens and Rabun to start the season.

She had 20 points in the season opener and then recorded a double-double for the Lady Tigers with 13 points and 11 rebounds Saturday night against the Lady Wildcats.

Coach Steve Sweat describes Bearden as one of the hardest workers on his team.

"It's pretty obvious she's paid the price to be here today. Hard work does pay off," he said. "I've been fortunate to see her grow up. She'd grown into a good basketball player, and even more important, she's grown into a good person. I know her mom and dad [Linda and Barry Bearden] are proud of her, and I am, too."