Senior Karlie Bearden's quiet leadership has made an impact on the Lady Tigers basketball team over her four years of playing under Head Coach Steve Sweat.
Consequently she's developed into what Sweat calls a "player-coach" and it's that leadership that has earned her the title of Player of the Year in Region 7-AAA for the 2015-2016 season.
Over those four years Bearden has averaged 15 points per game with a career total of more than 1,200 points.
She's also managed to average 8.5 rebounds per game with a total over 800 rebounds.
"Not only did she do one of them, she did both of them," Sweat said. "Usually you will have a post player that will get to 500 rebounds, but not to those points. Or the points but not the rebounds and Karlie has got both-a good inside and outside player."
"I have said many times I'm just glad she's on my team," Sweat said.
She also managed to average 70 percent from the free throw line, three assists, two blocks and three steals a game.
"She has definitely made her mark on Dawson County High School," Sweat said.
Bearden's knowledge of Sweat's system, along with deep relationships with her teammates, equates to a respect that translates in her leadership.
"I think that's a big part of what Karlie does. I have seen her telling them what to do on the floor. I don't know if telling them is the right word because it is player to player, but I guess I don't know what other word to say because she's not coaching them, she's helping them," Sweat said. "There's a difference. So I do my part and she does her part and I think she fills her part very well.
"There have been times when I didn't think something needed to come from me, the head coach. She's the one that I go to and say you need to talk about whatever the situation is. Or I ask her how did it go? Have you talked to them about this?" Sweat said. "About 99 percent of the time the answer is already ‘yes' because she already knows. And those kinds of players are good to have on your team. That makes it a whole lot easier."
While other athletes look to change things up during the school year and choose to participate in multiple sports, Bearden is single-minded. It is only basketball for the senior who has committed to play for Lenoir-Ryhne next year, where she'd like to study to be a physical therapist or a physician's assistant.
When the regular season is over, she's on to travel ball.
"It's a lot of fun," Bearden said. "I love travel ball. You have two different pressures, I guess you could say. Travel ball is more fast paced and you have college scouts watching. It's just different pressure. It's like your future and high school is the here and now. It's like championships and winning seasons and all that stuff."
Playing since she was 5-years-old, Bearden won three park and rec championships with several teammates from the current varsity team. Over time, those relationships have only grown.
"I get asked a lot especially in today's sports, ‘Where is she from?' And ‘Where was she from?' I say, ‘Buddy, you don't have to ask that question because all of ours are from Dawsonville,' which makes it a wonderful thing," Sweat said of this group.
"Some of us were brought up for varsity, some of us for JV," Bearden said about the group. "So we kind of got split for one or two years but we still remained friends. Nothing changed. There were no people getting mad at each other about who was where. That was awesome."
"And so it was fun getting to continue to play and this year continuing on that role, everybody coming together and still loving to play with each other and just building on that chemistry," Bearden said about the current season. "It's been really fun just to be able to win with them and all to be together the whole four years."
Bearden's relationship with Coach Sweat has also been crucial.
"He has meant a lot," she said of their relationship. "He's really just encouraged me to step up and play to the best of my abilities. He has really just pushed me to do all I can for the team. This year, really pushing me in taking a leadership role to help everybody out so we can have a winning season and keep it going as far as we can."
Bearden, although confident in her ability and that of her team's, didn't think she would be player of the year.
"I was hoping to get all-region again, but I wasn't expecting player of the year because there are so many good players in our region," Bearden said.
As evidenced by this year's all-region selections, many of those good players are also on this team. Haley Burgess and Kaylee Sticker were named to the all-region team, along with Katelynn Simpson, Peytan Porter and Eliza Sillesky getting honorable mentions.
"I've been here 20 something years, they love basketball here in Dawson County. It's pretty evident people like basketball around here and they have been very supportive of them and all of us," Sweat said.
"It has gone really well. Everybody has really just stepped up. Kaylee Sticker has really stepped up. So have Eliza Sillesky and Katelynn Simpson," Bearden said. "They have been key this year for getting rebounds and helping us score. I think it's going really well."
This year's team ended the season at 24-5 overall and 13-0 in the region. They qualified for the state playoffs and won in the first round over Calhoun High School, 71-54. In that game, Bearden scored 17 points and went 6 for 6 from the free throw line.
"(She's) just a good player, good student, as you can tell. (She's) smart, good-on and off the court," Sweat said. "Good player and good person."