As a college basketball player, Jennifer Lodge always looked forward to the season-opener.
As a first-time college head coach, suffice it to say her enthusiasm for the first tip-off is no less intense.
If anything, it’s intensified.
Lodge makes her regular-season coaching debut Friday in the Franklin College Tip-Off Tournament-opener against visiting Spalding. The game is the first of three in four days for the defending Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference Grizzlies, who are eager to get back on the court after a rocky 94-34 exhibition loss Nov. 5 at NCAA Division I IUPUI.
If you go
What: Franklin College Tip-Off Tournament
Where: Spurlock Center, Franklin College
Friday: 6 p.m., Franklin College vs. Spalding; 8 p.m., Baldwin vs. Ohio Wesleyan
Saturday: 1 p.m., consolation game; 3 p.m., championship final
Admission: $5 adults; $2 college and high school students; free for middle school students and younger
“We’ve got a long week because we play Friday and Saturday and then next Tuesday, and they seem like they’re more excited about that than anything. That’s so awesome,” said Lodge, most recently an assistant coach at Mars Hills College in Asheville, N.C. “They’re pumped, and they’re excited.
“Obviously as the coach, I’m super excited, too. I’ve seen a lot of improvement and a lot of good things happen in practice, so I just hope that carries into games.”
For the first time in three seasons, the Grizzlies will be without
two-time HCAC MVP Sarah Condra, who graduated after leading them to last year’s conference championship, a team-record 25 wins and their seventh NCAA Division III national tournament appearance since 1994.
Franklin’s leading scorer each of the past three seasons, Condra was the only player to average double figures last year (18 ppg).
To fill the void, Lodge doesn’t have a particular player in mind. Her plan is to do it collectively.
“I think as a coach and as a player, it’s easier to have one person score all the points or rely on that person. It’s harder to play as a team,” she said. “As a coach, too, it’s harder to coach an entire team. If I only had one girl to worry about, my job would be a lot eaiser.
“But that’s not what I want to do with the program.”
A standout player at Campbell University, Lodge served two years as assistant coach at Gannon University in Erie, Pa., followed by a two-year assistant stint at Mars Hill, where she also served as academic adviser, recruiting coordinator and strength and conditioning coach.
At Franklin, Lodge succeeds Kim Eiler, who posted a 151-64 record during eight seasons as head coach. Although she inherits a program minus the HCAC’s top player, she is encouraged by a roster that features three returning starters — senior center Jess Prewett, senior point guard Annie Tarkington and junior forward Krista Scott.
Prewett is the top returning scorer (9.0 ppg) and second-leading rebounder (5.0 rpg). Schott averaged 5.1 points and 5.6 rebounds last season, and Tarkington averaged five points and 3.1 assists.
Also back is last year’s top player off the bench, junior forward Krista Beaman. She averaged 6.1 points and 3.9 rebounds.
“I think we have a good basketball IQ, definitely with my top seven, for sure,” Lodge said. “The more we play together, the more and more we’re becoming a unit out there, and that’s exciting to me. I can see us coming together as a unit and being five people (opponents) have to stop on the court instead of one.
“They believe in what I’m doing; they just need confidence in themselves, and it’s coming. Every day we’re getting more and more confident.”