If you've walked by an Independence girls basketball practice this past season, you might've noticed something a little different: music.
No, that's not a metaphor for the symphony of the ball swishing through the hoop or the rumbling of dribbles against the hardwood. It's the sound of pop music while the team warms up and does drills; name your favorite.
It's a loose mood, with new Lady Eagles coach Bryan Glasner looking on his assistants running through warm-up drills with the players and getting them ready for their next game: at that time, a trip to Dickson Co. to face a typically-formidable unit.
Even for routine fundamentals, you can tell the girls are having fun. That's Glasner's hope, after all.
This team hasn't had a a winning season since any of the Lady Eagles were old enough to be in high school, 2012-13, to be exact.
Glasner took over the Lady Eagles in 2019, a team that, again, had struggled for six seasons to really get much going. The 2018-19 team went 6-21 (4-12), the team before that, 8-20 (3-12).
The 2019-20 Indy girls team, though, went 16-10 and 10-6 in the district, a dramatic improvement, and lost at the last second of the first round of the district tournament to Ravenwood, who went on to the region tournament.
They would finish fourth in the treacherous District 11-AAA's regular season standings.
It's one of the standout program turnarounds in recent memory for Williamson County basketball, and credits the new coach's effort to rebuild the Lady Eagles from the bottom of the rankings to what may be a regular contender going forward for the 11-AAA crown.
Glasner was an assistant coach and a freshman coach with the Independence boys team in 2018-19 under Doug Keil. Glasner coached Keil's daughter on her travel ball team while the former was at Wilson Central.
"That's how Doug knew I was good about working with young people and fundamentals," he said. "They hired me the week before school started last year (the 2018-19 school year)."
Glasner has been around coaching for about 25 years, 11 as a head coach. He supported Summit coach John Wild while at Wilson Central, and he's worked with legendary Tennessee preps basketball figures like TSSAA Hall of Famers Jack Harlow (Bradley Central) and Rick Insell (Shelbyville Central, current MTSU girls coach). Glasner says it was Harlow who got him into coaching.
For the Indy coach, a new culture isn't just changing the atmosphere of practice with music playing in the background. It's also about fanning the flames of competition and building together the essence of a true team, one with a familial atmosphere.
"Well, I want every kid to feel like they have a chance to be a part of it," Glasner said of his coaching strategy.
He wants practice to be an area where everyone challenges each other, no matter of that player's status with the team.
"It's raising the level," he said. "When that happens, that's a good thing for your team. So you want competition."
He also wants to emphasize with his players the importance of teachable moments as part of building his new culture with the program.
"You know, if they do something wrong, you gotta tell them why they did something wrong," Glasner said. "And here's what you did right."
This past season, the Lady Eagles relied on a host of new faces, like transfer student and senior Lindsey Freeman from Lebanon and star freshman Jailyn Banks, to spark the change on the court.
They both made the All-District team for 11-AAA, no small task.
Stalwarts like senior Kayla Miller, junior Amy Tang, junior Nola Wiggins and senior A.K. Davis also stood tall for the Lady Eagles, veteran members of Indy's team that finally got to experience the joys of a winning season after years of tough results.
"It's definitely new for me, especially coming from a program where they were pretty decent to begin with," Freeman said of transferring to Independence and being part of a culture rebuild. "More than anything, I've loved the journey with kind of growing with these girls and getting better. It also helps that we have a stud freshman (Banks). That helps."
She will play at Cumberland this fall as a freshman on the women's team.
The 2019-20 season saw Independence get regular season sweeps against historically formidable teams like Ravenwood, Summit and Franklin, and two wins in January's State Farm Classic at Riverdale High School.
To Miller, the team's first win against Ravenwood away showed that the team really could so something special that season.
"I was like, 'wow, we've beaten someone who we haven't beaten before, with a new team,' and we did it pretty well, too," Miller recalls. "And that was a game I couldn't even play much in the first time because I had broken my finger."
Funny enough, it was the first time any Independence girls basketball team had topped the Lady Raptors since that winning 2012-13 season.
From that Ravenwood road victory on Dec. 6, 2019, to Jan. 3, the team went on a six-game winning streak, including said tournament.
Glasner said the Ravenwood road game and Riverdale tournament games were big to help boost confidence in the team. One of the tourney games saw the Lady Eagles beat Hughes Center from Ohio, a team was averaging scoring in the high 60s and was held to 42 that day.
Another game Glasner mentioned as a standout was its February home game against Summit, where the Lady Eagles rattled off a stunning 19-point comeback in the fourth quarter and defeated their crosstown rivals in overtime.
In that game, Glasner recalls that, after he got a technical foul, Miller gathered support from her fellow teammates on the bench to help drive the comeback.
"Miller got everybody together and said, 'alright, Coach got her back, let's go get it,'" Glasner said, adding another player mentioned to him that Miller did that.
"That's good, as a group, because they're family. We preach family," he added. "It's just like, if you got brothers and sisters, you don't always get along with your brothers and sisters. So you don't always want get along with your teammates, but nobody outside of the family messes with your team.
"It's us against the world a little bit."
"Summit game, it left a mark, definitely," Freeman said on what game made a difference for the team this past season. "It showed what we're capable of, it shows the adversity that we can come over, and especially being down...I mean, it didn't look good for us. But...we got over it."
Glasner said he wants to inspire his team, and wanted to use its underdog status to fuel that.
"Every coach [has] got to try to get an advantage in some way to motivate their kids," he said. "But these kids have really worked hard. They've been coming in, in the morning, three or four mornings, like six o'clock in the morning, and shooting."
That was when the requirement was to come to at least two early morning shoot-arounds, too.
"They could see the difference," Glasner said.
The new coach also wanted to establish small changes that would add up into a big culture implementation. Whether it's sweeping the floor, cleaning up and doing some changing up in the locker room or doing laundry, Glasner didn't want anything to seem like it was beneath him. And he saw players following suit in chipping in.
"It's a group effort, and they know that nothing's too big for me to do," he said. "And they see me doing things to help improve their situations, as far as getting either new uniforms or redoing stuff in the locker room, stuff like that...It's just little things like that that mean a lot to them. You don't think so, but it does."
Freeman says she's known Coach Glasner in the past and says his style is squarely focused on the team.
"He's a lot about team bonding," Freeman said. "He's a lot about the team just mending together very well, and with everything that we do, he just tries to get us all together, like whether that's competing against one another...or in the end, just playing games with each other."
Banks is going to be one of the best girls basketball players in the midstate someday soon. She came to Independence from Spring Hill Middle School and instantly made an impact for the team, at one point averaging around 16 point a game. She figures to be a leader for the Lady Eagles in the days ahead.
"Communication," Banks said as a point of growth for her this past season. "When I first came, I didn't communicate a lot because I was a freshman, and I just kind of looked to the older girls to communicate instead of me. But with me playing a lot more than, I guess, a normal freshman, then I have to communicate.
"It's a lot of pressure, but it's also a great opportunity," Banks said of starting so early in her career.
She credits her senior teammates and Coach Glasner in helping her break out of her shell and start to live up to her sky-high potential on the court.
"It's been a fun year," Banks said. "[Glasner] likes to have fun with us, but also work hard at the same time, and likes to help us get better in practice a lot."
Tang said she feels Glanser helps them strategically before a game.
"He sees, I guess, a different aspect of the way to approach teams," Tang said of Glanser. "He scouts really well, and he always has us prepared."
Miller had been with the Lady Eagles basketball team her entire four years as as student at Independence, meaning she'd seen three years of difficult results before Glasner's revival of the program.
"I was definitely not quite sure at first what was exactly going to happen, but I had a good feeling," Miller said of her senior season, "Especially with knowing who was coming up, who was going to be on the team, and knowing I was going to be a senior and be a leader for the team. I just knew our chemistry was going to be different.
"So, when I heard we were getting a new coach, I knew the program would be different," she said. "[Glasner] was the freshman coach last year, we practiced with him sometimes, and even when he was gave us advice, when he wasn't even our own coach, I knew, oh, he knows what he's talking about. He knows what he's doing. So when I found out he was our coach, I was really excited."
She remembers playing summer ball with the team and seeing some wins start to come in. Something was different than it was during her earlier years with the team.
"We weren't exactly used to that kind of thing," Miller said of seeing success so early. "But definitely after seeing how our team grew together and stuff and how we played well and how our chemistry on and off the court was just way different than past years, so I had a really good feeling going into this season."
Tang missed some of the summer with injury but saw that summer growth Miller mentioned.
"Just watching us compete with teams I guess we couldn't have [before] made me really excited for this year," she said, as did adding Banks, who played with Tang's sister Sarah Tang at Spring Hill Middle. Sarah will be a sophomore on the Indy team this fall.
Miller has noticed the culture change in the way she's interacted with her teammates. She recalls with fellow seniors how, when the team would all congregate together in a classroom, the conversation would be between everyone included.
Being a Lady Eagle now involves having fun with team events and gatherings.
"I definitely feel like the main aspect of our team this year is how close-knit we are," Miller said. "In past years we've always been like, 'we'll be close,' but we have like little cliques within, but this year, I feel like there really isn't a clique. We all mesh well together...we literally are a team, we're a family. That, I think, is the biggest aspect that [Glasner has] brought to our team is how close we are."
For the longtime Lady Eagle, her favorite memory is not on the court, but at a cookout, a first time the entire team got together in Glasner's time as coach.
"After all the laughter and memories we made, I just knew, this is going to be a good year," Miller said. "That was the first night that I got all teary eyed, going 'Oh, I'm going to miss them next year.' That was a special moment this year for me."
While Miller, Freeman and Davis have since graduated, Banks, Tang and Wiggins will be two key faces for the future, as will Glasner as he continues to lead Indy's girls basketball team in one of the state's toughest districts.
"It's super exciting," Tang says of the future. "Seeing seniors this year and just the mark they left, like Kayla, she's had such a big impact on the program. She's stuck with it, she's been here for four years. And, knowing that next year will be my final year, with Coach G, too, it's just really exciting."
Interviews were conducted on February 10, 2020, at an Independence practice.