Brianna Bledsoe had anything but a typical high school basketball career.
Now, the Stephenville High School product is enjoying anything but an ordinary freshman season at Tarleton State.
Bledsoe, a true freshman, has developed into a key player off the TexAnns’ bench. She made a big impact last week in the opening round of the Lone Star Conference Championship.
After checking in around the 14 minute mark of the opening half, Bledsoe immediately made an impact, getting a steal that led to a Kiara Wright layup. She scored her first points just less than a minute later, connecting on a layup of her own after a Southeastern turnover.
Bledsoe recorded an assist two possessions later, then hit her first postseason triple to give Tarleton a double-digit lead just past the midway point of the half.
“She didn’t look like a freshman out there to me,” said Tarleton State junior Shelby Adamson - the LSC Academic Player of the Year - after the contest.
Bledsoe hit another three and finished with eight points, two assists and two rebounds.
“There were some nerves,” Bledsoe said of being in her first postseason game. “But if you don’t think about it, that helps, so I try not to think about it much.”
She said getting involved early gave her confidence.
“It makes me think, ‘Okay, I can play this style and with these other players,’” Bledsoe said.
She admits she’s had her share of struggles this season - mostly due to inexperience - but has logged significant minutes for a team that won its first LSC South Division title and has set a school record for wins (24) since joining the NCAA 17 years ago.
She has logged at least 10 minutes 16 times this season, including in both of last week’s conference tournament games. She posted season highs of 14 points and eight rebounds in 20 minutes of action against East Central, and had 10 points in just 12 minutes against Eastern New Mexico.
Bledsoe’s brightest spot has been her free throw shooting - much as it was in high school. She shoots 88.6 percent from the line.
Bledsoe says her high school career in Stephenville helped her prepare for this season.
“It definitely helped because in (District 8-4A) you could never take a night off,” she said. “It’s the same way here, except it’s even more intense.”
Bledsoe helped the 2009-10 Honeybees to the 4A regional quarterfinals last year, scoring 29 and 25 points in the bi-district and are rounds. They were finally eliminated in by state champ Mansfield Timberview.
Bledsoe reached double figures in 33 of 34 games in her final high school season, and was named to the Texas Girls Coaches Association 4A All-State Team.
She says being at home in Stephenville has been one of the great advantages to playing at Tarleton, where her friends and family are in constant support.
“It’s cool to look around and see so many people you’ve grown up knowing, and they’re watching you,” Bledsoe said. “That’s an awesome feeling, I love it here.”
Bledsoe said her first LSC Championship experience exceeded all expectations.
“I never got to go to a state tournament or anything like that, so this is kind of my state tournament experience I guess,” she said.
One thing Bledsoe loves is helping the TexAnns achieve things they never have before - such as the wins record - something she hopes to do more of.
“That would be awesome,” she said. “It’s just my freshman year, and to already be part of a team that’s doing this good, it’s better than I ever could have imagined.”
She’ll enjoy a new experience today when Tarleton battles Southeastern Oklahoma again in the opening round of the NCAA Division II playoffs. The TexAnns and SOSU tip off South Central Regional play at noon at Northeastern State University’s Jack Dobbins Fieldhouse in Tahlequah, Okla.
That when Bledsoe and all her teammates will have the opportunity to help Tarleton to another exciting first - its first NCAA playoff win.