CHARLOTTESVILLE — Gratitude. When Andy Meneely reflects on his first season as the girls head basketball coach at Eastern Hancock, no other word better describes his admiration toward the program.

For that reason and others, it made his recent decision to step aside as coach after one year not only difficult, but the right one for the Royals.

Meneely, who led Eastern Hancock to a 15-11 record and the team’s first sectional title since 2001, came to his determination along with athletics director Aaron Spaulding.

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“Me and (Aaron) kind of come from a philosophy of, if it’s between you and the program, that decision was made long ago,” Meneely said.

“Do I want to coach this team next year? Yes. I think I already came up with a game plan that was going to work for this team and make them successful. But for the longevity of this program, this was the best course.”

While praised for his coaching ability by Spaulding after the Royals won seven of their last 10 games to reach the Class 2A regional finals, Meneely said he didn’t have the work flexibility to steer the wholesale development of the program.

“It’s hard as a coach to step away from a great situation, but I have to make sure financially my family is stable,” Meneely said.

Meneely works in hospitality at the Wyndham Hotel in Indianapolis and in retail sales while commuting from Upland to Eastern Hancock. The nearly 45-plus minute drive along with his work responsibilities hindered him from dedicating his offseason time to the overall growth of the program.

“Andy Meneely and I have had several discussions regarding girls basketball. Our talks have centered around whether he could make the year-round commitment with the high school kids and feeder programs it takes to have a successful overall basketball program,” Spaulding commented. “We have come to the conclusion that as much as he would like to it would just be too difficult with his work schedule and commute distance.”

The departure of Meneely marks the third head coach in three years to step down with the program seeking its fourth coach in four seasons for 2017-18.

Meneely replaced former Eastern Hancock head coach Shari Doud, who resigned after leading the team to a 17-8 finish and a sectional championship appearance during her only season in 2015-16.

The Royals reached the sectional title game in three of the past four years, and they ended their 16-year title drought this past February. Under Meneely, the team defeated top-ranked Triton Central 57-50 in the Knightstown Sectional championship game Feb. 4.

The win avenged the Royals’ regular-season loss to Triton Central, 52-35, on Nov. 12. It also snapped the Tigers’ 15-game winning streak and attempt at a third straight sectional crown.

The Royals pushed onto the Speedway Regional, winning the first game against South Putnam 54-42 before falling to Covenant Christian 52-44 as an elite eight team in the state.

“The kids probably made the adjustment faster to me then I did with them because I didn’t want to turn the burner up on them and have them jumping ship,” Meneely said. “I think we found a happy median, had people get healthy at the right time, and we had a game plan that helped us out in the sectional final and regional.”

The Royals opened the year 8-3 before injuries and illness led to a five-game losing streak before the team turned the corner in mid-January. Eastern Hancock won four consecutive games before the regional final to post the program’s sixth straight winning campaign.

“I was extremely grateful just for the opportunity from the get-go,” Meneely said. “I hope they think they got more than they hoped for. I know I got more than I could have hoped for. I learned a ton about myself and about being a head coach, which was invaluable.”

Prior to taking over at Eastern Hancock, Meneely, who earned his bachelor’s degree in mass communications at Taylor University, coached exclusively at the collegiate level.

From 2003-04, Meneely served as a men’s assistant at Lincoln Christian College in Illinois. There he helped guide the team to its first regional championship and (National Christian College Athletic Association) NCCAA-II Final Four finish.

He was an assistant women’s basketball coach at The College of Wooster in Ohio from 2004-06. Meneely was an assistant coach at Pensacola State College with the men’s team from 2007-10 before returning to Taylor as a women’s assistant coach from 2012-13.

In the interim, he earned his master’s degree in kinesiology at the University of Texas – Permian Basin in 2011.

“I will always be extremely thankful to Andy for stepping up and helping us when we were in a difficult spot,” Spaulding referred to Meneely’s late hiring on Oct. 10. “He did a great job under difficult circumstances.”

Spaulding said the school is “beginning the process of looking” for a new head girls basketball coach. Meanwhile, Meneely, who hasn’t officially resigned, intends to mentor the returning players and continue their development over the spring until a candidate is hired to fill the position.

“I’m going to be pulling for them every game next year,” he said. “If it was just want to, I would have (come back). But when it comes down to making a realistic decision of can I drive this program the way they want it to, I couldn’t honestly say yes.

“They gave me a chance to kind of prove to myself and do what I felt I needed to prove to other people that I could do it. I was able to do that.”

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Rich Torres is sports editor at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at rtorres@greenfieldreporter.com or 317-477-3227.