As celebrations go, it was impressive. St. Mary’s Assistant Director of Athletics Joe Farrell had the plaque ready. The blue-and-gold “300 Wins” posters were modest but elegant. There were state championship alumnae on scene.
And St. Mary’s administrators Dr. John Dolan, David Angeramo, James Ridley, and Jacqueline Foley have been on board all season with the Spartans.
But the man they were honoring for the 300th victory of his remarkable career – St. Mary’s girls basketball coach and director of athletics Jeff Newhall – seemed to be low key as he spoke to reporters after his latest milestone.
Newhall had already turned his attention to what would be Win No. 301 Saturday in the Division 3 North final at the Tsongas Center – not to mention the other magical venues, the TD Garden and the DCU Center that might lie ahead for the 23-2 Spartans.
When pressed for comment about the milestone following his team’s 69-36 win over rival Bishop Fenwick, Newhall – arguably already one of the greatest coaches in North Shore history – responded, “To me, this is an indication that you’ve been coaching for too long, probably. We’ve had great players for a long time. And this is 14 more of them on this team. It’s more about them and less about me. Three hundred is good, but we want to get 301 on Saturday.”
The Spartans made sure there would be no upset in this Division 3 North semifinal at St. John’s Prep.
Senior Gabby Torres set the tone with two 3-pointer in the first quarter on her way to a team-high 14 points. Freshman guard Yirsy Queliz, who’s becoming a magician with her dazzling behind-the-back dribbles and drives and reminds long-time fans of former star and current assistant coach Sharell Sanders, had 12 points and five assists.
Division 1 college prospect, 6-foot senior Maiya Bergdorf, helped the Spartans take charge with 6 first-quarter points and 8 overall.
Junior guard Nicolette D’Itria, an excellent playmaker, scorer and free throw shooter, had eight points (2-of-2 from the line).
Senior Olivia Matela, who is one win away from returning to the scene (TD Garden) of the greatest moment of her career, scored 13 points in another solid two-way effort.
Van Nguyen, another of the Spartans’ skilled guards at handling the basketball, had seven points in the final quarter. Jannise Avelino (4 points) and Alyssa Grossi (2 points) were outstanding off the bench.
Torres, a four-year varsity player, and Matela, a three-year varsity player, talked about the significance of the victory and being in a program led by their future Hall-of-Fame coach, Jeff Newhall.
“We wanted to win this one for Coach Newhall and for each other,” said Torres. “I think he’s a great coach. He just always has something positive to say to us. He has so much knowledge about basketball. This was a very big win and it’s make it that much better because Fenwick is our rivals. It’s on to Tsongas Arena on Saturday.”
Matela said it’s been a great journey with all the coaches and Newhall’s Win No. 300 was a special moment.
“It’s really exciting to be a part of it, obviously it’s a very big achievement for him and we’re all very ecstatic for him – and it’s well deserved,” said Matela. “I’ve been here for three years and I’ve been able to witness some of his best games he’s ever coached.”
Just like her coach, Matela had already directed her focus to Amesbury – and quite possibly a return trip to the Garden.
“Of course, the Garden is the ultimate goal, but we’re not looking past Amesbury, that’s for sure,” said Matela. “We just have to keep working and pushing like we’ve been doing this entire season.”
Matela was asked what makes Jeff Newhall such an amazing coach.
“He’s very passionate about what he does and he cares not only about the players on the court, but also off the court, and I think that’s very important,” said Matela.