All-Area Girls Basketball: Coach of the Year, BA’s Ron Kessler

Published 11:00 am Saturday, May 6, 2023

The gym floor of John R. Gray Gymnasium is ringed with championship banners that attest to the success experienced by Brookhaven Academy in MAIS boys’ and girls’ basketball.

If you don’t handle pressure well, then coaching basketball at BA isn’t the job for you.

Fourth year head girls’ basketball coach Ron Kessler knew what those championship expectations looked like, and his 2022-2023 team rose to a high level of play night-in and night-out.

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The Cougars finished 41-4 overall and won the MAIS 5A State Tournament in a grinding, weeklong affair played at Pillow Academy in Greenwood.

For his championship winning leadership, Kessler has been tabbed as The Daily Leader All-Area Girls’ Basketball Coach of the Year.

It’s the second time for Kessler to take home the award since being hired by the school in 2019.

This season felt like one that BA fans had marked as having special potential before the first jump-ball ever went off.

The team was built around the veteran inside presence of twin senior forwards Emma and Lillie Gates. Almost every night, the pair would give Kessler’s team a size advantage on the boards and as rim-protectors in the paint.

Sophomores point guard Ella Smith was making the move up from the junior varsity program and Kessler elected to also call up eighth grade guard Anne Rylea Thurman. With her ability to shoot the ball, Thurman could stretch defenses and would have just this single season to pair alongside the inside presence of the Gates sisters.

Junior wing Reagan Fortenberry was the other returning starter and as her sophomore season had progressed, she’d shown an aggressive offensive skill set as the year had progressed.

Sophomore Ainsley Orr also moved up the varsity team and gave the group an athletic sub off the bench that could spell one of the Gates twins should they get in foul trouble.

Junior guard Mallory Martin was also another important substitute as she was the first guard off the bench and made the rotation off the bench most nights alongside Orr and sophomore forward Ava Calcote.

Kessler raved about the off-court intangibles that his senior class of Emma Gates, Lillie Gates, Ella Brown, Izzy Nelson and Kyla Armistad.

The group is made up of the five highest GPAs in the BA Class of 2023.

Knowing that you have good listeners allows a coach to further tailor how they want their squad to play.

That’s something this state championship team from BA was able to do better than their opponents.

Kessler’s team could use a variety of different defenses, was comfortable playing at a quicker or slower pace and had at least half a hundred half-court sets they’d run offensively.

That type of attention to detail is a direct reflection on the coach and in this title winning group of Cougars, Ron Kessler led a team that played the game exactly how he wanted them to.