FORT MADISON - Landon Bentley’s first game as Fort Madison’s girls basketball head coach was a win, and he couldn’t ask for more than that.
The Bloodhounds’ 39-36 victory over Ottumwa last Monday, though, wasn’t a surprise to Bentley.
“It was a pretty fun, crazy night,” Bentley said. “It feels pretty amazing to start out that way. But I knew we could play that way.”
To do it at his alma mater made it more special.
“It’s a dream come true,” he said. “It’s funny to say that. My whole life, I’ve wanted to be a head coach. I’m from here, I love Fort Madison. I wouldn’t want to coach anywhere else.”
Bentley doesn’t have a deep program yet — he went seven deep in the varsity game and the junior varsity team has eight players. But he knows he has the talent.
His three seniors — Ajia Jenkins, Taylor Johnson and Irelynd Sargent — played key roles in last Monday’s win.
Jenkins led the Bloodhounds with 12 points. Johnson had nine points and 12 rebounds. Sargent had just four points, but just having her back out on the court after she suffered a knee injury last season was big for the team, Bentley said.
“I don’t think you can explain it,” Bentley said. “It’s not just the basketball side of things. When you talk about a team spark. Anybody can make a basket. But her baskets just mean more to the team. It gets everyone excited. She brings energy, she brings passion into the game. And that can’t always be taught.”
The Bloodhounds have had big scorers in the last two seasons in Malarie Ross and Camille Kruse. Bentley thinks Jenkins can fit into that role.
“She’s one of our best shooters, she’s got a natural athleticism to move in and out of cuts, come off screens and get open,” Bentley said. “Some people are going to have to take those shots they haven’t had in the past, and she did that in a big way.”
Johnson’s experience in the frontcourt just adds to her production.
“She’s a smart player, and she’s very athletic,” Bentley said. “She’s played a lot of minutes, and she can do so many different things.”
Bentley also likes his three sophomores on varsity — Dayonna Davis, Hadley Wolfe and Halle Menke. Menke had eight points and 11 rebounds in the opener, and joined Wolfe, Jenkins, Johnson and Sargent in the starting lineup.
“Those sophomores play like seniors,” Bentley said. “They really get after it when they get on the floor.
“Dayonna is just an all-around great athlete. She’s strong, she’s tough. Halle is a workhorse — she’s done everything we’ve asked her to do in the offseason, and you can see it in the way she plays. Hadley doesn’t get enough credit. She’s our point guard. She’s our glue. She keeps her composure if she makes a mistake. She turns the page, moves on to the next possession.”
Freshman Reilynn Turnbull also saw time in the varsity opener, and Bentley expects her to have a key role as well.
Bentley hopes to give some of the JV players varsity experience as well.
“I want them on the bench, in the locker room, just so they can see what it’s like, because that can pay off down the road,” he said.
One game down, but Bentley is ready for the longer process of running the program.
“The energy and intensity level, it’s different than it has been, and that’s a good thing,” Bentley said. “But I want to keep that going. My biggest focus as a head coach is to build the program from the ground up. And we’ve had a good start.”