NORTH VERNON — It’s been a relatively seamless transition so far.
Jennings County is 2-0 since head coach Mike Broughton stepped back into an assistant role because of health concerns. Joe Hartwell took over as acting head coach and led the Panthers to wins against Madison and South Ripley this past weekend.
“Really what’s happened, is coach has taken a little bit lesser of a role,” said Hartwell, a former Jennings County player and South Decatur coach. “I’m just doing more yelling at practice. The transition has been pretty smooth, really.”
The Panthers are 3-1 overall, with only a three-point loss at New Palestine to open the season. Jennings has beaten East Central, Madison and South Ripley by an average of 18 points.
“I’m really happy with how intense our guys are early in the season,” Hartwell said. “They really play hard every possession. That’s something we thought we’d have to wait until later in the season to get.”
Leading the way is 5-foot-10 senior point guard Bailey Sanders, who is averaging 15 points a game.
“He’s been a really strong, positive floor leader for us,” Hartwell said.
The Panthers have an imposing presence in the middle in 6-9 junior Brad Hunt. Two sophomores who played on the freshman team this past year — 6-5 Caleb Eder and 6-2 Dan Leach — have earned starting roles.
“We’re really happy with Caleb Eder and Dan Leach,” Hartwell said. “They play so hard defensively and rebound.”
Adrian Kirchner, a 6-1 junior, and 6-3 senior Tommy Taylor have also started this season. Taylor led the team with 12.3 points and 4.5 rebounds a game last season.
Other contributors include 5-9 senior Bryson Mills, 6-1 junior Jonah Woods, 5-9 junior Johnny Scruggs and 6-5 sophomore Richard McNamee.
“We play so hard; we play 10 guys,” Hartwell said. “That’s our whole philosophy. We try to go as hard as we can, so it’s great that we can go 10 deep.”
“We have some size, and we have some experience,” Broughton said. “For us to be successful this year, Sanders is going to have to do well at the point. It’s important that they try to learn the system that we have as soon as they can.”
Broughton and Hartwell are Jennings’ fifth and sixth head coaches in the past six seasons. The Panthers went 19-4 and 11-12 the past two years under Bob Howe.
Howe resigned in March, and Broughton, who is also the school’s athletic director, was appointed coach two weeks before school started.
“They’ve worked pretty hard,” Broughton said. “We’re starting a little bit behind because we didn’t have a coach over the summer. But we’re catching up, and the kids have been pretty receptive to what we’re trying to do. I think they’ve worked really hard, and they’re picking up things, and we have a lot of potential.”