BOWLING GREEN—It was only 11 years ago that the new Lady Cats head basketball coach Jared Runyon was in high school himself. He’s faced a lot in those 11 years, especially in the last year taking over the top spot all the while dealing with COVID constraints and trying to build a winning team.
Runyon graduated from Mark Twain High School in 2010. Right out of college, he said, he took a position at Palmyra High School.
“I was there five years, and loved it,” he said. “I actually have some family in the Bowling Green and Curryville areas,” he added. He also has friends in this area, including Austin Leake, who helps coach football and baseball for Bowling Green R-I Schools.
“I also knew coach (Joe) Chinn from my (high school) class, so I have some connections here,” he added.
When he saw there was an opening for the head coach position for BG girl’s basketball team, Runyon said he jumped at the opportunity.
“I really felt as though I was ready to be a head coach,” he said. After applying for the position, he noted, he came to tour the school and all that Bowling Green has to offer.
“I thought it would be a good fit for me,” he said.
He inherited a strong team, but as a new coach, there would be some adjustments to make—for him and the players.
“I’m a personable kind of guy, and building relationships is really important to me,” he said. “We coach in the first place for the kids.”
But COVID made everything different. A week after it was announced he would be the new head coach for the girl’s team, he made contact with his assistant coach, Paige Chinn, who is also the school’s nurse. With her help, they set up a Google Classroom so they could sign up the students who were going to be playing in the fall. He also met the players by Zoom so he could introduce himself.
“They were quiet at first,” he said, “but now they’ve loosened up.” He was glad that the school system was able to work within the guidelines set by the state and the CDC so he could meet the team in person last summer.
“I was scared we weren’t going to able to have an off season at all,” he said. But he was able to meet and learn about them. “We’ve got a really tight group of girls on the team, so it was easy to (work with them),” he added. “There are some really good athletes.”
The team’s off-season was only 3 to 4 weeks long, but even then, the players had to stay 6 feet apart, so it was difficult to do a regular practice.
“Normally, we’d have a little bit longer than that,” Runyon said. They could only get in about a dozen practices before one of the girls tested positive for COVID, forcing the rest of the team to be quarantined.
“We had to go back to just meeting online for two weeks,” he said. They had about three practices before starting their season at the MoCo Tournament.
“It was a rough start,” Runyon added. “We knew that with a young team and not a whole lot of development time it was going to be a rough start, but we’d progress as the season continued.”
He’s looking forward to having a regular offseason—a full summer to work with the players who are returning in the fall.
“I’ve already have some girls coming in and shooting baskets,” he said. “I’m happy where we’re at.”
Runyon teaches freshman physical science, as well as the junior and senior anatomy class.
He’s big on open communication with the team.
“We all need to be on the same page,” he explained when working with the players and getting them and him up to speed on how to handle the basketball and run plays.
“I talk with them about expectations, what I expect from them and the team. It starts off small, like letting them know they need to make it to practice and get some shots up.”
It’s also important for the team to understand how playing together can relate to life lessons, which they can carry forward. Not all the players will continue playing ball in college, he explained, so connecting them to those life lessons are big to him.
He also likes to rely on the older players to hold the team together and put them on the same page.
“It was tough this year,” he noted because about 80% of the team was freshman and sophomores. He added that the two seniors on the team really stepped up into those leadership roles.
“That’s the hardest part of coaching; making sure everyone is pulling in the same direction, not fighting with each other and pulling toward that same goal,” he said.
Even though the team did not have a lot of success last season, Runyon was pleased with the improvement he saw. Next season should be much better, he added, knowing that the majority of the team would be coming back, plus there are a good number of eighth grade girls coming out for the team.
“We’re going to be returning almost 100% of our point scorers and rebound assist players,” he said. At least eight girls from the team had a lot of varsity experience. He noted that the All-Conference Teams were announced and a Bowling Green freshman and a sophomore made second teams.
With the incoming players and the number of returning players, Runyon is expecting to have a deep and talented bench to draw from during games.
It’s going to be a good season, he said.