Billy Martin is going to be busy once high school sports return to Howard County.
Martin, Centennial’s head football coach since 2018, was picked by Centennial earlier this month to lead its girls basketball program, too.
“We are excited for Billy Martin to take over the girls basketball program,” wrote Centennial athletics and activities manager Jeannie Prevosto in an email. “He loves teaching and coaching. Billy’s a passionate, energetic, big-hearted guy, and he will do a great job. He is a student of the game and has learned from some of the best coaches in Howard County.”
The junior varsity girls coach at Centennial for the past six seasons, Martin, 34, is taking over for Rob Slopek, who has moved over to lead the boys basketball squad at Centennial.
“I’ve been super fortunate to coach some really good kids. I would say that between coaching girls basketball for six years and however long I’ve coached football, some of the best people I’ve had the chance to be around have been with this program,” Martin said. “The opportunity to coach these really good kids and be a part of a successful program was very appealing.”
The Centennial girls basketball team will have a combination of new faces and returning talent. The Eagles will be looking to replace seniors Brook Anderson, who was a second-team All-County selection last season, and Rasa Welsh, who was a second-team pick in 2018-19. However, the Eagles will be welcoming back Lauren Pellegrini and Tori Pearson. Pellegrini averaged 7.3 points per game as sophomore last season, while Pearson scored 9.5 points a contest as a junior.
“We’ll have a handful of upperclassmen, and Tori is probably the most accomplished player in that group,” Martin said. “She’s really put in the work to become a better basketball player. She has the potential to be an All-County player, and she’s super athletic. We also have some other dependable, smart players coming back who have experience playing varsity basketball like Lauren Pellegrini, Olivia Jackson and Callie LasCasas.”
Slopek said Martin’s experience with the junior varsity squad will help him adjust as the Eagles' new varsity coach.
“Billy has been coaching many of these kids in the JV program, so that should help the transition to varsity go easier,” Slopek said. “Billy cares a lot about each player, and that will go a long way in building respect and rapport with each player.”
Slopek, who coached the Eagles' girls squad for eight seasons between 2005 and 2020, is taking over a boys team that played for a regional championship last season. Slopek is taking over for Chris Sanders, who led the Eagles to a 19-6 record in his only season at the helm. Sanders took over for Chad Hollwedel, who won 193 games in his 12 years as the Eagles' head coach.
Slopek started coaching the varsity girls at Centennial in 2005 at 24 years old. He coached from 2005-06 to 2009-10, amassing 75 wins and winning a regional championship in his final season. After a stint as an assistant for Stevenson University’s women’s basketball team, Slopek returned to Centennial in 2017-18. This past season, Slopek won his 100th career game on Feb. 7 in a 58-43 victory over Atholton.
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“He’s super passionate about basketball, and he loves coaching,” Martin said of Slopek. “He’s one of the more knowledgeable people about basketball that I’ve had an opportunity to work with. His passion and his knowledge of the game combined with the standards that our boys program has, I’m excited for him.”
After spending time as an assistant football coach at Mt. Hebron, Martin was hired in 2018 to take over the struggling Eagles football team. From 2014-16, Centennial went 1-29, and in 2017, the Eagles couldn’t field a team.
The Martin-led Eagles struggled in 2018, finishing the season 0-10, but last season, the Eagles won their first game since 2016 in a 41-26 win over Mt. Hebron on Oct. 19.
Martin doesn’t expect there to be an issue with being a head varsity coach for two different sports.
“As far as balancing the two jobs, in some ways, being the varsity girls coach gives me a little more flexibility on when meetings are and practices are,” Martin said. “That will help me manage my time. But also, the school is important to me. I don’t look at it like two programs, I look at it like one school.”
If sports are able to return during the academic year, Martin will coach two abbreviated seasons for Centennial. On Sept. 11, the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association announced its plans for the 2020-21 athletics seasons amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The “Roadmap for Return to Interscholastic Athletics and Extracurricular Activities,” which was approved by the state and was developed in consultation with all 24 school systems and the Maryland State Department of Education, lays out a plan for three eight-week seasons starting Feb. 1. The winter sports season is scheduled to run from Feb. 1 through March 27; the fall season, March 15 through May 8; and the spring season, April 26 through June 19.