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LOCAL SPORTS

Kindred: Ridgeview grad Megan Jones adjusts ‘game plan,’ becomes college head coach at 27

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The daughter of two coaches, Megan Jones had a game plan. How could she not? When your mom and dad have a basketball court named after them, you value game plans.

Hers went like this. After playing basketball for four years at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa, she would pursue her master’s degree in kinesiology with an emphasis in sports psychology. Then, she would “take that track” as her life’s work.

The first part went smoothly. Jones secured her master’s from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The second part? That was an issue.

“I realized I was missing the game and the interaction with the players,” Jones said. “That’s when I decided I wanted to get into coaching.”

It has been a good fit.

After three years as a women’s assistant coach at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, Jones was hired in August to lead the Monmouth College women’s program. At 27 — “I’ll be 28 later this month,” she says — Jones is a Division III head coach.

Megan Jones at practice.jpeg

Ridgeview High School graduate Megan Jones takes the court Friday for her first practice as Monmouth College women's basketball head coach.  

Friday was the opening practice for the former Ridgeview High School star, who helped the Mustangs to third-place state finishes as a freshman (2009) and junior (2011).

“I kind of hit the ground running,” Jones said. “It was kind of a whirlwind to get started because it (her August hiring) was a little late in terms of recruiting for the next year. We jumped right into it planning for this current season and getting into recruiting right away. It’s been a busy two months.”

Helping along the way have been Robyn and Andy Jones, longtime coaches on the junior high and high school levels at Ridgeview. The junior high gymnasium was dedicated last week as ‘Coach Jones’ Court’ in their honor.

This week, as the first practice approached, Jones had a lengthy phone conversation with her parents.

“I’ve been putting together a playbook to get ready and we were talking a lot of basketball, which we do pretty often,” she said.

Megan Jones demonstrating.jpeg

Ridgeview High School graduate Megan Jones demonstrates proper technique Friday during her first practice as Monmouth College women's basketball head coach.

Mom and dad are among several “coaching mentors” for Jones. Another is recently retired Ridgeview boys coach Rodney Kellar, an Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Famer and longtime family friend.

“Mr. Kellar sent me a book when I got the job,” Jones said.

She also can call upon Illinois Wesleyan men’s head coach Ron Rose, who played basketball at IWU with Andy Jones from 1984-88. The two became close friends and still are.

How close?

“He’s actually my godfather,” Megan said. “My first conversation after I was offered the job, other than with my parents, was with him. He offered some words of wisdom as I was kind of overwhelmed by the opportunity at first … and grateful for it. I was lucky to have his voice included.”

Another resource was friend and former Ridgeview teammate Paige Nord, who went on to play at Monmouth. Nord encouraged Jones to pursue the opportunity and now is “pretty excited that I’m here,” Jones said.

“I was thankful for her guidance and support,” she added. “I’m excited to get connected with the alumni, so having a connection with her is kind of cool. She and Mindy Whitehouse, my high school coach before my dad, have been talking about what games they’re going to get over here to watch. It’s cool to have their support.”

Jones inherits a team eager to return to the court. The Fighting Scots did not have a season last year because of COVID-19. Two years ago, they were 21-7 overall and 14-4 in the Midwest Conference under former coach Kyle Wilson, winning the league’s regular-season and tournament titles.

They advanced to the NCAA Division III Tournament for the second time in school history, losing in the opening round.

“Having solid experience returning from that team will be really beneficial to us, especially in teaching some of the younger players,” Jones said.

Jones’ plan is to teach more than basketball. She has a deep appreciation for Division III athletics, having played and coached at that level. Her father’s background as a Division III player is a factor as well.

Jones-Megan_portrait-590crop.jpg

Jones

“I love the balance between academics and athletics,” she said. “It’s kind of that all encompassing college experience. I’m pretty passionate about instilling that experience with our players.”

There’s more ...

“I’m passionate about developing young women and young leaders,” Jones said. “I think having the ability to relate to them will really help with that. Something I enjoy most about coaching at the college level is being able to help them navigate that next step in life and that college experience … the transition from high school to college and then the transition to finding a job or going off to grad school.

“I think my age, along with my experience of having gone to grad school right after my undergrad, will really help with that.”

Don’t be surprised if you see Jones in a gym near you. She seeks to recruit this area hard because of her familiarity with it. There are a number of area high school coaches who Jones played against and/or know her parents.

It is a good start toward her goal of connecting with coaches in western and central Illinois.

For now, the focus is on getting the Fighting Scots ready for their Nov. 10 season opener at Iowa Wesleyan. Jones will have a game plan.

How could she not?


COLUMN MUG Randy Kindred

Randy Kindred is a columnist and retired sports editor at The Pantagraph. Follow Randy Kindred on Twitter: pg_kindred

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Doug Bartels makes his living in investments at a bank in Chicago. He sits at a desk, works on a computer. Yet, at some point every day, he is back at Ridgeview High School, hearing the voice of the man he still calls “Mr. Kellar.” Bartels is on a basketball court, learning the game and so much more.

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