At just about any other school, it would be an extremely rare occurrence for the head coach of a team to miss a week or two of the season due to maternity leave. But for the Georgia women’s basketball team, this situation is nothing new.
Head coach Joni Taylor gave birth to her second daughter, Drew Simone Taylor, at 7:29 a.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 19, just hours after coaching the Bulldogs to a win over Ole Miss the night before.
Now, for the second time in three years, Taylor will miss part of the regular season while she tends to her newborn child, and the team is more than prepared for her absence.
“Everybody has to be ready to step up,” sophomore guard Maya Caldwell said. “This is the second time this has happened so everyone knows what to expect.”
The Bulldogs have been on a good run recently. After the game against Ole Miss, Taylor said they were “peaking at the right time,” but the team isn’t concerned about Taylor’s absence throwing off their play.
Redshirt junior point guard Taja Cole said she isn’t worried about a potential drop-off without Taylor.
That’s because she and the rest of the team are confident in Taylor’s interim replacement Karen Lange.
Lange has served as the associate head coach since Taylor was hired in 2015. She was also the interim head coach when Taylor missed time for the birth of her first child in 2016 and said she feels comfortable in this new role.
“Luckily two years ago we had this same kind of situation,” Lange said. “This is nothing new as far as our game prep (is concerned).”
Lange is a very familiar face for the Georgia players, and Cole added that it will be a smooth transition because Lange is “an extension of Joni.”
“There’s really no difference (in their coaching styles),” Cole said. “She runs the pack just like Joni does.”
Lange agreed and said that she and Taylor both prefer a calmer approach to leadership, but she does have a different voice that the players are used to hearing.
“I think we’re both very calm and we’re very much the same day in and day out,” Lange said. “(But Taylor) has allowed me to have a voice since I’ve been here, so it’s not different for our players to hear me lead something or talk about something in the huddle.”
That’s certainly good news for the team, as they have a quick succession of games coming up that Taylor will likely miss. They will host Arkansas at Stegeman Coliseum on Thursday, Feb. 21, before heading to Tuscaloosa, Alabama to kick off a two-game road trip.
The travel involved will make it difficult for Taylor to attend, but Lange said she believed Taylor would be back on the bench for the Bulldogs' regular season finale at home against Kentucky.
With that said, no one around this team doubts Taylor’s toughness and commitment to the program, so an early return would be no surprise.
“Joni will be back in no time,” Cole said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s there tomorrow.”