Hearlihy wins Coach of Year, leads girls’ basketball to state title

Chronicle Staff

By Alex Edel

In her 25th year of coaching, Melissa Hearlihy’s girls’ basketball team snagged the school’s first state basketball title, and Hearlihy was named state Coach of the Year.

Hearlihy started her career directly out of University of San Francisco where she played basketball. She started out as an assistant coach at Alemany High School and within a year became head coach at the age of 23. While working on her master’s degree in education, Hearlihy continued to coach and teach at Alemany. After 15 years of coaching there and before the birth of her second child, Hearlihy started coaching at Harvard-Westlake.

“I saw it as a wonderful opportunity,” Hearlihy said. “It offers many different things from what Alemany offered. I also had kids coming up. I mean I had one already and one on the way and having the opportunity for them to possibly be Harvard-Westlake students, I felt was something that was very important.”

After coaching for 15 years at one place, Harvard-Westlake was a change of pace for Hearlihy. She said that adjusting to the more rigorous academics was the main change.

“I am more sensitive to what their schedule is,” Hearlihy said. “At Alemany I taught and understood, but they weren’t going home and doing four hours of homework. Plus, kids here don’t just play basketball. They do other things whether they are writing for the Chronicle, or playing for the jazz band. You have to be a little more sensitive to the fact that these kids are much more well-rounded.”

This season her team lost only one game, against the number one nationally-ranked team, Mater Dei, and had a 30-game winning streak culminating in a 14 point win over St. Mary’s in the state finals. Last year, the team also won CIF, but lost in the quarterfinals of state. In her 25 years of coaching Hearlihy has coached 553 games, putting her in the top 10 of all-time career wins by ESPN RISE Cal-Hi Sports State Record Book & Almanac. She was also named by ESPN RISE as the 2010 Div. IV state coach of the year. Along with

the state coach of the year award, Hearlihy will also be walking away from this season with a league title, a regional title and a state championship.

She said the coaching staff helped the team achieve is trust. Whether it was morning breakfasts at Roscoe’s to reading letters from the athlete’s parents aloud at the retreat, Hearlihy facilitates many different events throughout the year to create more trust between the members of the team.

“We went to the press conference (after the championship game) and that’s something they continue to talk about because an integral part of the championship is the trust and togetherness the team has,” Hearlihy said.

Hearlihy will have to help the team adjust after graduating more than half of their starting lineup this year.

“We are losing a huge component of our team, but I feel very confident with the returners that we will have a very good defensive team, but I don’t know what kind of offensive team we will have, and that is the big question that I have,” Hearlihy said.

Her role with the seniors is not only that of a coach but also that of a communicator between the players and college recruiters.

Although most of the athletes exposure to college coaches come during the club season, Hearlihy helps by providing recomendations to coaches and also by helping the girls make their decisions.

Hearlihy has coached three of this year’s star players to play college basketball. Nicole Hung ’10 will play at Princeton, Nicole Nesbit ’10 will play at University of Santa Barbara, and Sydney Haydel ’10 will be playing at the University of Hawaii in the fall.