As Karen Lange sat at the podium after winning her first game as interim head coach (in this stint), a special memory was made. Her two children, Ashlyn and Ty, sat three rows back to savor their mother’s experience as a Georgia head coach.
There were smiles as the Lange family walked out of the interview room, because it was not only a memory but also a relief to walk away with the victory over Arkansas. Lange was filling in for her boss Joni Taylor, who gave birth to her second child on Feb. 19, and there are plenty of expectations when taking on that responsibility. But Taylor trusted in who she hired, without hesitancy, and it paid off that night.
“It’s about making sure we are moving forward,” Lange said. “We are moving in the right direction, and I don’t want her to worry.”
A week and three wins later, there are no concerns inside the Lady Bulldogs’ office. Everything is running as it would be if Taylor was in command (although she’s making frequent trips to remain present and assist her staff). Lange carries many of the same mannerisms Taylor does while on the sideline, and Georgia’s streak of success hasn’t dwindled since the change.
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Georgia beat Florida 69-57 on Thursday night for the team’s fourth consecutive win, and there were only improvements to be seen. It wasn’t a matter of “Taylor isn’t with us, so let’s allow everything to fall apart,” but rather “Lange is similar to Taylor, so let’s show our head coach what we’re capable of.” Georgia had four double-digit scorers and 24 mid-range points in the victory over the Gators.
“Our coaching staff has done a great job of being an extension of Joni and carrying the team,” point guard Taja Cole said, who has been a leading force for the Lady Bulldogs. “We respect (Lange) like she’s coach Joni, so we’ll lock in on our scouting report and get another win.”
For that, Lange deserves plenty of credit and maybe there was little reason for concern. She improved to 7-2 in her two stints as an interim coach and is cherishing her opportunity at the Division I level. Her only head-coaching experience prior came at MidAmerican Nazarene University (Olathe, Ks.) of the NAIA.
On the big stage, it has been no different. That’s not to say it hasn’t been without Taylor’s help or that of the other assistants (Chelsea Newton and Robert Mosley), but Lange has stepped in to do a more-than-adequate job. Taylor has prepared her coaches throughout her four-year tenure by allowing assistants to have a significant voice in the huddle and in practices, and “Aunt Karen,” has only become a bit louder.
“That’s why you hire a staff that’s competent, on the same page and carry the same vision,” Taylor said when making her pregnancy public on Sept. 21, 2018. “I will sleep well knowing that.”
Lange has passed all three tests, but her biggest comes Sunday as the Lady Bulldogs host No. 11 Kentucky. Taylor is expected to return to the bench in a supporting role before potentially re-assuming her coaching duties during the SEC tournament on March 6. As Georgia is working its way back to the NCAA tournament bubble, this test versus the Wildcats might be the most-important game of the season due to conference tournament seeding and an RPI boost.
Georgia’s RPI is at 98 as of Friday, but is also 1-8 against the top-50 RPI teams (a leading metric for the NCAA selection committee). Kentucky’s RPI is at 21, and the Lady Bulldogs can redeem themselves after narrowly missing on chances against Texas A&M, Auburn and others. A win also gives Georgia a No. 5 seed in the SEC tournament with the chance for a No. 4 slot and double-bye if Alabama can beat Missouri to give the Tigers a seventh conference loss. A Georgia loss could put it as low as a No. 7 seed.
If morale remains where it is now, Lange will have Georgia fueled to make its run and Taylor will continue to be a motivating factor.
“It’s really showing that they’re putting in the work to get us prepared,” Robinson said. “I’m just having so much fun and I really love this feeling.”
Lange might have her children back in the seats Sunday to absorb another coaches’ press conference, but for now the temporary Lady Bulldogs’ coach is cherishing her moment. Wherever she’s led, Lange will carry the same mentality while not thinking about the next step.
For now, she couldn’t have Georgia in a better spot.
“I’m the type of person where I do what I do because I enjoy doing it,” Lange said. “I’ve been climbing the ladder, and I want to do the best job no matter where I am.”
Contact Brandon Sudge at email@example.com or 404-374-6964.