For three of Polk County’s women’s college basketball programs, the first order of business this offseason was a ride on the coaching carousel.
First, former Haines City coach LaDreda Akins resigned after just one season at Warner in March. Two months later, Florida Southern’s Holly Borchers resigned to take the head coaching job at her alma mater, Roosevelt High School in South Dakota.
Southeastern’s Drew Watson was the final departure, retiring in late May to focus on his duties as the university’s athletic director.
Now Florida Southern’s Betsy Harris, Southeastern’s Jody Martinez and Warner’s John Dunlap enter the fold as they prepare their teams for the upcoming season. For Dunlap, taking over one of the local programs is a familiar step.
“It’s definitely one of my passions — basketball — so I’m just loving it, absolutely loving it,” said Dunlap, who last coached at Southeastern in 2012. “I guess when you lose it you appreciate it a lot more if you can get it back. I’ve known Warner for 24 years before I got here, and I know a number of people over here, so it really was an easy and comfortable decision.”
Dunlap’s resume includes a combined 24 years as the head men’s basketball coach at both Webber and Southeastern. This will be his first go-around coaching women’s basketball, but if his success in the men’s game (464-362) carries over, the Royals should be on the right track.
“Winning is very important, it just is with any coach and if it’s not there’s something wrong,” Dunlap said. “Every year is a new year for a team whether you bring in two people or nine people, so that dynamic is always in place. The new system and terminology, that’s new for everybody.”
Warner lost its top three scorers from last season’s 15-win team — Stephanie Wills and Brooke Garmon graduated while Kelly Brennan transferred — and will enter the season with nine new players. After winning 12 of their first 14 games last season, Warner dropped 12 of its final 15 games to end the year.
Dunlap knows this will be a challenge, but having been around the athletic department since 2012 as the assistant athletic director, he’s familiar with the returning players.
Harris faces a similar challenge at Florida Southern. Under Borchers last season, the Mocs struggled to do much of anything offensively after senior point guard Taylor Maldonado re-injured her knee early in the season. Florida Southern returns a large portion of last season’s 7-20 squad, and Harris likes that.
“The biggest thing is getting this team to be mentally tough and to find scoring,” she said. “With us, it’s not going to be just one or two players that are going to get all the scoring done, it’s going to have to be a team effort because we don’t have that star or stud player that does that for us.”
Winning is something Harris has been doing since her college days. A four-year starter at the University of Alabama, Harris led the Crimson Tide to the NCAA Tournament in her final three seasons including an appearance in the Final Four in 1994.
She continued that success at NAIA Coastal Georgia where she helped turn the program into a regular contender in the Southern States Athletic Conference.
While Dunlap and Harris face the possibility of rebuilding seasons this year, new Southeastern coach Jody Martinez inherits a Fire team that won 20 games a season ago. That’s fine with Martinez because he’s used to his teams winning games.
Martinez led Bethel College (Ind.) to 13 appearances in the NAIA Tournament, reaching the Elite Eight seven times in that stretch. That’s the kind of success he’s aiming for at Southeastern from the get go.
“I want to bring the mentality that they’re talented, that to get to that national level to be recognized nationally, it’s going to take a lot of effort and mental toughness,” he said. “We want to bring excitement to Southeastern, but keep a mind set that this is a journey and we’ve got to take it one day at a time.”
The Fire finished third in The Sun Conference last season and despite losing conference defensive player of the year Rachel Turner, appear primed to make another run at the conference title this season.
“We can’t look ahead to March because that’s unrealistic,” Martinez said. “The team success is more important than any individual accolade, and these girls have to buy into it. I want to be able to walk the hallway and all of a sudden see one of my players shooting off the dribble or breaking a sweat without being told to.”