By Cary Shuman
Johnna Fisher, a former basketball captain at Winthrop High who went on to play at Division 1 Central Connecticut State University, has been named the new head coach of the Winchester High girls basketball team.
At 24, Fisher becomes one of the youngest varsity head coaches in Massachusetts.
It has all happened fast for the 6-foot-3-inch Fisher, who graduated from Winthrop High in 2011 and CCSU in 2015 with a degree in Sociology.
Fisher coached AAU basketball in Connecticut and served as an assistant for one season at UMass/Boston. Fisher learned about the vacancy at Winchester High School following the 2016-17 season.
“There were a few openings in the area for head coaches and I was encouraged by my AAU director to apply for the Winchester job,” said Fisher. “I received a phone call from the Winchester AD, Mark Arria, and he asked me to come in for an interview three weeks ago. I interviewed with a five-member committee and soon after I received a phone call that I had been selected for the position.
“I want to thank Mark Arria and [Winchester High] Principal Dennis Mahoney and the committee members for giving me this opportunity and believing in me.”
Fisher inherits a Winchester Sachems program that is in a rebuilding mode in the highly competitive Middlesex League. Winchester is known for its outstanding girls soccer teams but Woburn, Lexington, Reading, Watertown, Wakefield, and Belmont have been the perennial contenders in basketball.
“We’re definitely in a rebuilding phase but with some new energy and ideas, and a new slate of coaches we’re going to shock the Middlesex League – that’s my plan,” said a confident Fisher.
A newly rebuilt and redesigned Winchester High School building will open in September.
“There is a lot of excitement in the town about the new school opening and there’s a large incoming freshman class,” said Fisher. “The community is invested in high school sports and they’re excited about the energy I’m going to bring to the program.”
Fisher has named Dave Lebwith and Karl Tenenholtz as assistant coaches and is looking to add a freshman coach to her staff.
Fisher’s introduction to Winthrop basketball came in middle school when she was a junior manager and bench assistant to former head coach, the late Peter Grimes. She became a varsity player as a freshman on Mr. Grimes’s WHS team and had her best season as a senior, averaging more than 20 points per game and being selected to the Northeastern Conference All-Star Team.
“Mr. Grimes was my biggest role model as I strived to impact as many people as I could like he did,” said Fisher. “I feel like I’m following in his footsteps in trying to advance girls basketball and being a successful coach like he was.”
Fisher also credits her father, John, for teaching her the fundamentals as a youth. John added seven inches to his frame after high school to become a 6-foot-6-inch college basketball center himself.
“He taught me a lot but we’ve never officially played one-and-one yet,” said Fisher. “We used to shoot baskets at a court in Revere and he was instrumental in my development as a player.”
Her mother, Michelle, also provided great support in her career. “She drove me everywhere, to games and practices for AAU (Bay State Blizzard) and was at all my games.”
Other “impactful” mentors in Winthrop were former coach Ignacio Oyola and teacher/coach Mike DeFelice. She also served as a peer mentor in Mr. Chris Donnelly’s program for students with special needs.
Fisher also drew inspiration from former teammate Katerina Mallios, who went on to play college basketball at Babson.
“Katerina Mallios was definitely someone I looked up to – she took me under her wing and guided me in the right direction. Even when I competed in college, she was still there as a really good friend to reach out to,” said Fisher.
Fisher coaches in the Mass Huskies AAU organization and just completed a stint as assistant director of a youth camp in Winchester. On the Monday after Thanksgiving, the tall, talented, and high-energy Fisher will officially begin her goal of trying to turn around the fortunes of the Winchester High girls basketball program.