SCOTCH PLAINS – Wiping away tears during a post-game celebration that included not only present players, coaches and school administration, but also balloons, flowers and photographs and former standout players from the past, Union Catholic girls’ basketball coach Kathy Matthews was more than moved following Wednesday’s victory.
Matthews, the only head varsity girls’ basketball coach Union Catholic has ever known and nearing the end of her 41st season at the helm of the Vikings joined an elite group of high school hoop mentors.
On Wednesday afternoon, following her team’s more-than-convincing 49-28 victory over visiting South Plainfield, Matthews became only the fourth girls’ basketball coach in New Jersey to attain 700 victories.
She is now in a group that includes Jeff Jasper of Pascack Valley (983), Sue Liddy of Holy Angels (728) and retired coach Vanessa Watson of Shabazz (720).
Liddy reached 700 wins last year, also in her 41st season at the helm of Holy Angels.
WINNINGEST GIRLS’ BASKETBALL
COACHES IN NEW JERSEY
Jeff Jasper, Pascack Valley (983-188)
Sue Liddy, Holy Angels (728-278)
Vanessa Watson, Shabazz (720-107 – retired)
Kathy Matthews, Union Catholic (700-313)
ONLY GIRLS’ BASKETBALL COACHES
IN STATE HISTORY TO COACH 1,000 GAMES:
Jeff Jasper, Pascack Valley
Sue Liddy, Holy Angels
Kathy Matthews, Union Catholic
Dave Troiano, Wildwood
Troiano reached 1,000 games last week, with his record after
a Feb. 13 home loss to Ocean City 50-33 reading at 676-324.
“I’m in a lot of good company,” said Matthews, who saw her best team in more than a decade win for the 12th time in 13 games to improve to 19-5. “I want to thank all the coaches, players and administration.
“It’s unbelievable. It’s a lot of wins.”
Still getting a great deal of satisfaction to how she spends her winters, Matthews made it clear that she will be back for her 42nd season next year.
“I still really enjoy what I do,” Matthews said. “When I look at the clock and realize that this is not for me anymore I will know when it is time to step aside.”
Victory No. 600 came on the road nine years ago in the final game of the season.
This time the next 100-win milestone victory was enjoyed at Union Catholic’s court, with Union Catholic fans acknowledging Matthews’ success by chanting her name near game’s end and also displaying larger-than-poster size pictures of her.
“Talent, good leadership and the kids buying into what we’re teaching here is what has made the program successful,” Matthews said. “A lot of teams did that.”
Matthews has guided Union Catholic to 12 conference titles, a record eight Union County Tournament championships (including 4 in a row from 1986-1989), five sectional crowns, three state titles (all in a row from 1987-1989) and had the Vikings playing in the first-ever Tournament of Champions championship game after they ousted top-seeded Bloomfield 62-46 in the 1989 semifinals at Monmouth College.
Union Catholic finished No. 2 in the state in 1989 behind TOC winner Hoffman, the Group 1 state champ.
From Olympian Kris Kirchner to Gatorade National Players of the Year Kris Durham (1987) and Jess Ballweg (2000) to standout 1989 senior Cheryl Cop who went on to star at Rutgers (Cop is in the Rutgers Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame) to her star players of this year which include senior Andrya Robinson, senior Taylor Gardner and junior Izzy DiDario, Union Catholic has maintained an excellence in the sport – despite not winning any titles recently – that few programs can claim.
“We were 106-6 during the four years Cheryl Cop was here,” Matthews said. “She was the consummate player at Union Catholic. She made everyone around her better.”
The Vikings have averaged 17 wins a season for more than four decades.
This year’s squad has now surpassed that average by two wins and will go after victory No. 20 Saturday at Bernards before competing in next week’s Non-Public, South A playoffs.
“I don’t want this to overshadow what our kids have accomplished this year,” Matthews said. “We were 2-3 in early January and behind the leadership of players such as Andrya Robinson, Izzy DiDario and Taylor Gardner we turned our season around.”
Win No. 600 came on Feb. 19, 2008 – a weekday in Summit when Union Catholic concluded its 2007-2008 campaign with a 31-29 win at Oak Knoll. Union Catholic finished 10-10 that season.
Win No. 500 came during the same month that Union Catholic won its last UCT title – February of 2001.
A senior member of the 2000-2001 squad was Jackie Huber, who now as Jackie Dyer is completing her 10th season as the head coach at Cranford. Dyer has guided Cranford to North 2, Group 3 sectional championships in 2010 and 2013 and to the UCT championship in 2016. She also coached Cranford’s junior varsity team to the 2006 JV UCT title.
Union Catholic’s previous two wins came over Cranford, including a thrilling 55-54 double overtime Feb. 14 UCT first round victory at Cranford.
Union Catholic then came from behind to top the Cougars again, this time by a 51-45 count at home in Monday’s conference-crossover in Scotch Plains.
“To see what Jackie has done at Cranford and to see her win the county championship last year was really special,” Matthews said. “To see her do so well is very rewarding.”
Another former Matthews player who went on to have a great deal of success coaching two sports at Linden – softball and bowling – is 1989 graduate Cherie Pizzano, who was there Wednesday to happily see her former coach break through another victory barrier.
Pizzano was on the team in 1986 when Matthews reached win No. 200.
“Her lasting legacy is not in the numbers, but in the production of her former athletes,” Pizzano said. “It’s how she prepared us for what we all went on to do off the court.
“She taught us how to fight through adversity, how to work hard and just have passion for what we were doing.
“I’m so blessed to be a part of this. She truly is a class act.”
Union Catholic Principal Sister Percylee Hart has been at the school almost as long as Matthews, 37 years now.
“Kathy has been a mover and shaker here for girls sports,” Principal Hart said. “I’ve walked the walk with Kathy from her being the head of the physical education department to assistant disciplinarian.
“She has such a passion and love for what she does. She has such dedication and is persistent and unassuming.”
Matthews guided the Vikings to the first of their record eight UCT championships her first year at the helm during the 1976-1977 season when there weren’t nearly as many varsity sports for girls as there are now. She has also coached volleyball and tennis and is presently a member of the softball staff.
She has also received a great deal of support from longtime assistant coach Bruce Douglas and assistant coach Karen Piasecki, Class of 1988, who was a player on state championship teams at UC her junior and senior seasons.
“This is my home,” Matthews said. “We have a great athletic high school here.
“Our team this year has great chemistry. I want to continue to be a part of that.”
NON-CONFERENCE GIRLS’ BASKETBALL GAME AT UC
SOUTH PLAINFIELD (11-14) 09 03 06 10 – 28
UNION CATHOLIC (19-5) 11 16 15 07 – 49
SOUTH PLAINFIELD TIGERS (28):
13-Sydney Christian, senior, 1-1-0-5
25-J’Lainea Brown, freshman, 1-0-1-3
11-Caity Hughes, senior, 2-0-3-7
25-Grace Ochoa, senior, 0-1-0-3
10-Mackenzie O’Brien, freshman, 2-0-4-8
5-MaKayla Sosa, junior, 0-0-1-1
44-Kayla Greenleaf, junior, 0-0-1-1
Starters: Greenleaf, Hughes,
O’Brien, Ochoa, Sosa.
UNION CATHOLIC VIKINGS (49):
5-Abigale Ortiz, freshman, 0-0-1-1
14-E’Lana Kovacs, sophomore, 1-0-0-2
44-Taylor Gardner, senior, 3-0-0-6
13-Andrya Robinson, senior, 7-0-0-14
1-Gabrielle Welle, junior, 0-1-0-3
20-Kayleigh Kelly, senior, 3-0-0-6
15-Izzy DiDario, junior, 4-3-0-17
Starters: DiDario, Gardner,
Kelly, Robinson, Welle.