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The Cornerstone Christian Academy is on the brink of a big, big season.
The Bulldogs are the defending Kentucky Christian Athletic Association state champs, they lost three starters from last season's team and they're slowly moving on to a bigger stage -- the Kentucky High School Athletic Association.
Cornerstone opened their season Tuesday with 75-60 win over Lakeside, a team entering its first season in the KCAA.
"We looked pretty good overall," CCA head coach Norris Beckley said. "The score wasn't really indicative of how we played. Our starters only played about eight minutes and we had built a 30-point lead. So we played the younger guys to give them a chance, and we didn't want to really run the score up."
The game gave the Bulldogs a chance to get on the court once before playing in the Tip-Off Classic this weekend, which will be hosted by Cornerstone for the first time.
"We're going to find out a lot about ourselves and the league this weekend," Beckley said. "We'll have all of last year's state tournament teams plus a couple of other teams. That will give us a good chance to see how we stack up, and see what the rest of teams in the league look like."
The Bulldogs lost three key seniors from last year's squad, and Beckley said that's caused a big leadership hole that the team is still looking to fill.
"Those three guys -- Mark Hines, Stephen Hobbs and Will Stewart -- would always step up and give us exactly what we needed, whether it was a big shot, a steal or a defensive stop. What I'm looking for now is who's going to fill that roll for us."
Beckley said he's very confident with the top seven in his rotation right now. The Bulldogs have three players -- Patrick Maurer, Jesse Benson and Jeffery Chalfant -- that either started or had big roles last season, two new players -- James Hamilton and Will Sower -- who come in as transfers, and newcomers Michael Lanham and Chris Curtley to make the start of the rotation.
"Patrick, Jesse, and Jeffrey along with James and Will are starting right now, and with Michael and Chris coming off the bench we've got a solid top seven," Beckley said. "But with our style of play where we like to run at every chance and play a controlled chaos on defense, I'd really like to get a rotation of 10 players. Everybody has to be ready to play for us. We need contributions from everybody on the bench because of our style -- we can't have five players playing 32 minutes."
Plus, Beckley knows the Bulldogs will be playing with a bullseye squarely on their back.
"Everybody wants to knock off the champ, and that's what we've been trying to tell the guys," he said. "We're going to take some lumps this season, no doubt, but I think by the middle of the season when we really come together and hit our stride, we'll be the team to beat again."
The Bulldogs will start to play some KHSAA games this year as they start a probationary term in the state's largest high school association. Cornerstone will play seven KHSAA games this season, and Beckley said he's very excited about it.
"We've got games with Bullitt Central, Evangel (Christian), Holy Cross, Whitley County, Breathitt County and some others," he said. "And, if we're eligible, we'd like to play in the All 'A' Classic this year. That's something we're looking at right now. I think this is going to be a great move for us. It's going to be tough, but I think we can win some games this year."
Cornerstone won't be eligible to play in KHSAA postseason play this year, so the school will continue to compete for KCAA titles.
"We've got a big season ahead of us with big goals and big expectations, but I think we'll be ready," Beckley said.
Cornerstone Christian Academy will play host to the KCAA Tip-Off Classic tonight and Saturday. Games will begin at 4:30 p.m. Friday and continue though 9 p.m. The Bulldogs will play Bethel in the first round on Friday night at 7:30.
Saturday's games will begin with the loser's bracket at 9 a.m. The championship game will be at 6 p.m., the third-place game at 4:30 p.m. and the fifth-place game at 3 p.m.