Published: Wednesday, December 19, 2012, 12:40 AM
By Patrick Villanova/The Jersey Journal The Jersey Journal Follow
SECAUCUS — John Sterling didn’t pump his fist, raise his hands to the sky or offer any other exaggerated gesture when the final buzzer sounded the conclusion of Secaucus’ 69-27 victory over Leonia last night.
But after a photo opp with his players — some holding an array of cupcakes arranged in the shape of a ‘400’ — Sterling was sure to deliver an important message to his team.
“Thank you so much,” he told the team as it huddled around him following his 400th career victory.
Now in his sixth season at the helm of the Patriots girls basketball program, Sterling began his coaching career in 1989 at Bogota High School, where he coached the girls team for 13 seasons. After a two-year stint at Wood-Ridge from 2005 to 2007, Sterling landed the job at Secaucus, guiding the Patriots to 20-win seasons in each of his five years.
“If you coach long enough, you’re eventually going to get there, so I’ve been really blessed to have a lot of great kids to coach for many, many years,” said Sterling, who also served as Bogota’s head football coach from 1996 to 2000. “Without good players you don’t win games.”
It appears that Sterling has plenty of talent to work with this year. Sophomore guard Andie Lennon, who stared as a freshman, poured in a game-high 17 points — 11 of those coming in the Patriots’ dominant 33-point first quarter.
Sterling guided Secaucus to a 23-5 record a year ago, when the Patriots fell to Lincoln in a thrilling Hudson County Tournament semifinal game. A week later, New Providence ousted his team from the state tournament in the North 2, Group 2 sectional final.
But with a strong sophomore nucleus, leadership from its two seniors and an influx of talented freshmen, this year’s team may have what it takes to reach the next level within Hudson County and beyond.
Freshman guard Kristina Ulrich (12 points) and 5-foot-11 freshman forward Zoe Pero (four points) have joined Lennon, sophomore Julia McClure and senior Danielle Roesing in the starting lineup. Senior Danielle Mitchell, sophomore Kendall Caruso and 5-foot-11 freshman Alyson Toman form an effective group of reserves.
“Zoe has the height and Kristina has the quickness,” said Lennon. “They both bring a big outlet to the team, they both help us out on offense and defense.”
For McClure, who burst onto the scene alongside Lennon last year, the team’s added size on the interior means she can spend less time in the paint and more time roaming the perimeter.
“Last year, we had to play Julia McClure out of position so often,” said Sterling, a math teacher at Bogota High School. “Julia is as fierce on the floor as ever. She can rebound with anybody, but it’s nice to be able to play her off of a post player and out on the perimeter a little more where she can use her athleticism and her quickness.”
And while this group has Sterling excited for the immediate future, his players were happy to be a part of yesterday’s milestone. Sterling’s record stands at 400-127, with a 110-27 mark at Secaucus.
“I was happy that it was his 400th, not a surprise,” Roesing said. “He’s not strict, but he’s very tough on us, which helps get to the way we are now.”
Added Lennon: “He worked all his life to get this, and he did it today.”