The last few years have been a struggle for the ladies from Independence High School, but this season a new face on the bench has brought a new attitude and a positive outlook to Coal City.
Larry Cunningham, no relation to Happy Days hoopster Richie Cunningham, has taken over as the the head coach of the Lady Patriots. And while Cunningham is no television star, his positive, caring attitude has struck a nerve with the young ladies at Independence, resulting in a record number of 23 players on the roster.
Cunningham has spent numerous years coaching youth sports, but this will be his first head coaching spot on the high school level. He is more than ready for the challenge, stating he was “super excited” when he found out he would be the head coach.
Although the Lady Patriots have had their struggles, the cupboard is far from bare for the first-year coach as Independence returns some very good players and will have a very solid group of freshmen that won the middle school championship last season.
Leading the group of returning players will be senior Chloe Layne, and Cunningham is glad to have the senior leader on his team.
“She is like an assistant coach for us,” he said. “When we break off into groups, she is so fundamentally sound and I can put a lot of the girls with her. She can show the girls the right way to do things. This is her team, and she wants to go out a winner. That is what we are trying to do.”
Layne was a double-digit performer last season and scored 48 points in one game, making 16 3-point baskets. Her ability to score in bunches makes her a target of opposing defenses each night, but she still finds a way to score.
With all the accolades about her offensive prowess, Layne is not concerned with the attention. She just wants to help her team win.
“I just want to win games and leave everyone with good leading skills for future teams,” said Layne.
Helping Layne in that leadership role with be two key returning players, Kasey Hart and Emily Brown. Hart is back for her senior season to hold down the low post position, and with more help on the perimeter, Hart will be able to use her 6-foot frame more in the paint to score and rebound.
Emily Brown returns for her second varsity season, and although she is young, Cunningham views her as another senior on the floor. Brown is a defensive minded player that will fit right into Cunningham’s philosophy to play aggressive defense.
“We are gonna start on defense. We are going to press and get in people’s faces, and that will turn into offense for us,” explained the coach.
Madison Deck, Alexis Bolen, Nicole Kester and Alex McDaniel will lead the freshmen group. Deck, Bolen and Kester will see a lot of varsity action, and Cunningham is excited to see them on the floor with his returning players.
“Nicole, Lexi and Madison will play mostly varsity. They are very good and have played together so long that they know exactly what the other is going to do. They are like their own little team,” said Cunningham.
The first-year coach has brought both enthusiasm and the change of atmosphere to the Lady Patriots. The practices are more upbeat, and he has established a positive environment at the school that he loves and from which he graduated.
“We just have a new attitude and some fresh faces, but we will not back down. We are going to work hard to win every night and we are not going to be just a win on the other team’s schedule.” said Cunningham