It wasn’t too difficult for the Lady Indians to adjust to their new coach.
It’s easy to understand why.
Brad Lovely had been on the coaching staff as an assistant at Madison Central for 11 years.
“It’s been an easy transition,” Lovely said. “They trust me and I trust them. I know their capabilities. It’s been a smooth start.”
Lovely was hired this summer after Robbie Cooksey stepped down from the position to become the school’s athletic director.
The timing of the transition couldn’t have been better.
The Lady Indians return only two starters from last season — seniors Jekauri McKeithen and Taleya Todd — while the rest of the roster is filled with underclassmen who Lovely has worked with for years.
“I’ve built a lot of relationships with them, especially the younger ones because I’ve had them at the JV level forever. I’ve coached them more than Robbie did,” Lovely said. “I had them at the JV level for three years.”
The Lady Indians won just 10 games last season and lost in the championship game of the 44th District Tournament.
They do, however return two of the top performers in the 11th Region and a talented — but inexperienced — group of younger players.
“We have back our two leading scorers. But, the problem is, that’s it,” Lovely said. “We have three new starters who maybe saw two minutes of varsity action last season combined. Then, I’ve got kids who weren’t even on varsity last year. So, there’s going to be a learning curve, especially early on.”
Todd and McKeithen have been in the starting line-up the past two seasons.
McKeithen has developed into a force on the interior. The forward averaged 13,5 points and 10.3 rebounds a game last season.
In the offseason, the senior worked hard to work on other parts of her game.
“She’s a really good jumpshooter,” Lovely said of McKeithen. “The past couple of years, we’ve only had her on the block. Our offense this year lets her use her athleticism and she can pull the other bigs out.”
Todd averaged 11.2 points a game last season and hit a team-best 23 three-pointers. The senior also had 2.8 rebounds a game.
Todd is dealing with a shoulder problem and will likely have to battle through the pain.
“We are opting to rest her a little bit right now to try to make her last through the season,” Lovely said of Todd. “We are trying to limit her minutes now.”
The rest of the line-up is untested.
The Lady Indians graduated five seniors, who played most of the minutes along with Todd and McKeithen.
“We are trying to find those complimentary players,” Lovely said.
Junior Lacie Parks appeared in every game but one last season and averaged 4.6 points and 1.2 rebounds a game.
Junior Brianna Bierbaum scored just eight points in varsity action last season, but is set to open the season as the starting point guard.
“She’s heady. She’s got a quick jumpshot,” Lovely said of Bierbaum. “She’s crafty. She can shoot the three.”
Junior Raelynn Miller has played in only three varsity games, but will get lots of playing time, especially if Todd is out of the line-up.
Chloe Freeman cracked into the rotation last season as an eighth-grader. She played in 22 games and hit eight three-pointers.
The freshman gives Central a good outside scoring presence.
“She’s one of our best shooters and probably one of our best defenders,” Lovely said of Freeman. “She grew up a lot over the summer.”
Freshman Eve Carter could also be a big contributor this season for the Lady Indians.
“We’ve got a lot of young, talented kids,” Lovely said of Carter. “They are tough. It’s a very good group.”
The Lady Indians have even younger players who will be pressing for playing time.
A trio of seventh-graders — Brittany Campbell, Nataya Strader and Tiana Long — are poised to make their way into the rotation.
“I tell the girls that these middle schoolers are going to try to take your job, because they want to play,” Lovely said.
With those younger players leading the way, Lovely wants the Lady Indians to play fast and fly around the court.
“It will be a different team,” Lovely said. “We are going to play man-to-man and full-court press. It’s going to be fast-paced. It may not look pretty at first, but that’s the goal.”