Blake Clary served for years as an assistant coach to Aaron Stamm at both Ludlow and Conner girls basketball programs.
When Stamm was named head coach of the Ludlow boys recently, Clary, 35, was tapped to be take over the Panthers’ girls program. It is first head coaching job.
“(Clary) is very patient,” Stamm said. “He’ll do really well. The girls need some stability. Meredith (Hartfiel) is staying with him as an assistant. I think it was a great hire. Keeping the staff together was important for the girls.”
Hartfield and Randy Lillard are Clary’s two assistants so far. Lillard also served as an assistant on Stamm’s staff last season.
“They know how I am,” Clary said. “We’re still trying to figure out what we’re going to do with that last position on staff. We’re just trying to find someone who knows how to coach at a small school like Ludlow. Just have that sense of pride. I’m really glad that they’re back in the fold.”
Clary is a 2004 Ludlow graduate. He has been around the community his entire life. Clary is an operations manager at a local vending company.
“It’s a nice blessing for them to be able to work with me,” Clary said. “They know it’s something I’m passionate about so they’re very supportive of me. It’s great to have.”
Clary takes over a program that has been to the 9th Region Tournament four straight seasons. Ludlow has been to the region tournament seven times in school history, but has not won a district tournament crown or a region tournament game.
This past season, Ludlow built a nice 22-point halftime lead over visiting Dixie Heights in the 34th District championship game. But the Colonels came back to win 51-49.
“That’s one of the things that I really wanted to talk about when I want through the process to get the job was for us to be happy with everything we’ve accomplished, but not to be satisfied,” Clary said. “We still have big goals in mind and we still want to strive to get over that hump and hopefully bring home a district championship one day.”
Ludlow only graduates one player from last year’s 25-11 team, but it’s a big one in Jenna Lillard. She finished with 2,008 career points helping Ludlow to a 69-28 record in Stamm’s second stint as head coach of the program. Jenna Lillard is taking her talents to the defending National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics women’s basketball national champion Thomas More University Saints.
“It’s a tough task to replace her leadership on and off the court and everything she brought to us offensively,” Clary said. “But to have that many returning starters at a small school is a positive for us. That usually doesn’t happen.”
The leading returning scorer for Ludlow is senior point guard Mylee Garrett. She averaged 11.3 points per game last year. Clary said the team will lean on her because she’s been the starting point guard since the seventh grade.
“We already know his coaching and how he is so I feel like it’s not that big of a difference. He’ll run the same drills as Aaron,” Garrett said. “He’s been with Aaron all of this time so I feel like he coaches the same (way).”
Other key returning players for Ludlow includeMorgan Arnold, Mikiah Pence, Oliva King, Prestyn King and Ava Hoffmeister.
In a scrimmage Tuesday against Scott, Ludlow tried to run an up-tempo style. Clary said the goal is to do that relying on spacing and to run a mixture of motions and movements without the ball in the half-court sets in a five-out look.
Defensively, Clary said Ludlow will utilize a lot of man-to-man defense in the full and half-court with some zone presses. He said the Panthers may mix in zone against bigger teams. Ludlow hopes to use its quickness to pressure opponents.
“These girls have been around each other for many years,” Clary said. “We have a big junior class whose been around us since eighth graders so they know what to expect and one thing I really wanted to push this summer is communication – making sure they continue to talk. So far, we’ve done that. I think we’ve got a chance to have a really good team again this year.”
Clary said he understands the challenges of smaller schools. A big one is sharing athletes with other sports.
“It’s tough for us,” Clary said. “But the one thing that’s good about it is that so many of them will play a fall sport. So they’ll come to us. It’s won’t be basketball shape. But they’ll come in shape from other sports. Hopefully, that helps with our depth where if we’re in shape, we’ll be able to play more than five players.”