By Anthony Bosco
But with the arrival of first-year head coach Joe Lewinger Jr., as well as a new attitude and commitment to winning by a team that returned just three players from last season, the Hilltoppers have turned it around in the 2000-2001 campaign. While last year the team won just four games, Mary Louis is in the midst of a four-game league winning streak and the head coach is hoping for more to come.
“I really have tried to instill a new attitude,” Lewinger said. “The first thing I was upset about when I got here was that when people played for Mary Louis they treated it like a CYO team. The first thing I taught was that they should be proud of Mary Louis.”
Rebuilding a program that has been a cellar dweller for years was only made more difficult by the presence of two perennial powerhouses in the league, the nationally ranked Christ the King Royals and the always tough St. Francis Prep Terriers.
They were also the two teams that combined to hand Mary Louis its first three defeats of the league season. Still, Lewinger and his players have been determined to right the ship through hard work and dedication.
“After the first couple of days of tryouts it looked like a war scene out there,” Lewinger said of his first few days as coach. “They were out on the floor almost begging to stop.
“I said 'You don't have to run, but I'll miss you. If you want to get playing time you have to do this,'” the coach added. “I have a good relationship with my kids. Anything I ask of them they do. Since that first day they asked to stop running I haven't heard a complaint yet.”
The huge turnover in players also helped the team, Lewinger said. Eight players on the current team had no experience on the varsity level prior to this season, which made Lewinger's philosophy of conditioning and hard work all the more palatable.
“From the first day I said to them, 'I know what you girls can do.' They have made a total commitment to this,” said Lewinger, who often has five players on the floor in their first year on the varsity level.
But it has worked. After some early season disappointments, including blowout losses to Christ the King and St. Francis Prep and a non-league loss to PSAL powerhouse Francis Lewis, in which Mary Louis blew a six-point second quarter lead, shot 10-of-22 from the foul line and committed 21 turnovers, the Hilltoppers have rebounded in fine fashion.
Starting with a 56-39 win over league opponents Bishop Loughlin two weeks ago, Mary Louis has won four straight, including a win over Stella Maris, a 51-36 win over St. Edmund and a 47-39 decision over St. Savior last week.
Leading the team on the court is junior Donna Lohrey, who had 16 against St. Edmund and 26 against Stella Maris. The 5-foot-3 guard out of Glendale is also the team's captain, an honor she earned through her hard work in practice.
“Donna is definitely the backbone of this team,” Lewinger said. “I have never seen someone practice as hard as Donna Lohrey. It's hard to match what Donna does in practice. Donna wants to get better. She wants the team to win.”
Sue Basile, Liz Barry, Rachele Burriesci and Liz Stein have also made key contributions on the court, with Lewinger still toying with his starting line-up.
The Hilltoppers will put their four-game winning streak on the line Friday when they host Bishop Kearney at 6 p.m. Kearney is another tough league opponent, but one Lewinger is hoping his young squad is ready for.
“If we beat Kearney it'll be a testament to all the hard work we've done,” he said.
Christ the King 48, Red Bank Catholic 47. The Royals, ranked No. 8 nationally, held on to defeat the No. 18 Caseys Sunday before 1,800 fans at the Asbury Park Convention Center. Senior Clare Droesch finished with 19 points, nine rebounds and six assists and Christine Catalanotto hit two free throws with 9.5 seconds remaining to ice the win. The Royals are now 14-1 overall.
St. Francis Prep 70, Stella Maris 45. The Lady Terriers were led by Kristin Lee's 20 points, raising the team's record to 11-2 overall and 5-1 in league play.
St. Francis Prep 78, Notre Dame 53. Dawn Gorynski led with 18 and Lee added 15 for Prep against the Staten Island team.
St. John's Prep 67, Fontbonne Hall 55. The Red Storm got 27 points from Christian Jones and 22 from Lora Morton as St. John's improved to 10-3 overall and 6-0 in league play. The league loss was the first of the season for Fontbonne.