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Comets look to bounce back under new leadership

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After longtime Eastern Comets girls varsity coach Andy Steele stepped away from the program to join IU Kokomo’s women’s basketball staff, someone needed to step in to lead the team into 2021 after an abysmal 2020.

Enter Jake Fleenor. The Indianapolis native is entering his sixth year with Eastern, the last two as the boys’ varsity assistant coach. He is also the seventh grade social studies teacher at the middle school. Fleenor isn’t walking into a cakewalk in 2021. Last season, the Comets were 1-21, playing a full season but a tough one. After Steele left the program, Fleenor was quick to jump at the vacancy.

“When the job opening happened, I saw it as just an opportunity. I’ve had most of these girls in school and I knew how great of students they were. I’ve seen them play many other sports other than basketball throughout their time here in middle school and high school, and I just really wanted to start working with them and help them grow and improve as a basketball player and a student into an adult here,” Fleenor said.

So far, having a full offseason is nice, and Fleenor has liked what he’s seen so far. There is work to be done on the court but he likes the group he has to work with. Steele laid a solid foundation for Fleenor, but Fleenor has to figure out how to get more wins on the record.

The team has two seniors going into the season, Kara Otto and Jacey Richmond. Unfortunately Richmond suffered an injury during her soccer season, but Fleenor said the team is hoping to get her back towards the end of the season for a potential run.

Juniors Macy Coan and Kassidy Fritch are returning as well, and Fleenor said having that experience from last season will carry over, making it easy to build on in 2021. The team will need to play well and rely on their leaders to have success this year, he said.

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“We’re going to be kind of a young team, but I think getting a little bit of experience with some varsity will definitely help them this year. I got a little bit of time with the team in the summer, and then this fall I’ve gotten a good mix of girls that have been coming in the gym, working hard, and showing improvement every day. They’ve been showing improvement throughout the two months that we’ve been kind of together here, and we want to be competitive. That’s our goal,” Fleenor said. “We want to improve every day. We want to be competitive in every single game we play no matter who is on the schedule.”

The goal is always to keep the conference trophy at Eastern, he said. The Comets want to be right in the mix of the Hoosier Heartland Conference. Fleenor believes his team will be able to win any game of the schedule and that’s the mentality going forward.

The sectional is of course the goal as well, but after a 1-21 season last year, the Comets will take all the wins they can get.

Steele is a friend of Fleenor’s, and Fleenor said he feels blessed to take over after his leaving. He wished him all the best at IU Kokomo and said they still talk now and then. He knows if he has any questions, Steele is just a call away. Plus Steele has said he isn’t leaving Greentown and will still be a big part of the Eastern community, catching basketball games any time he can.

“I’m friends with Andy. He helped out with the boys when I first started. He and I played a little bit of golf together,” Fleenor said. “I think he’s done a nice job, and I think the girls we have coming back have improved during the time he was there, and I’m wishing him all the best,” Fleenor said.

The Comets kick off their season at home on Oct. 30 at noon against Lapel High School, and look to hit the ground running in 2021 with a win.