Snyder's girls' playoff bound Coach Leahy making steady progress with program
by :Jim Hague
Feb 27, 2007 | 841 views | 0 0 comments | 2 2 recommendations | email to a friend | print
When Jack Leahy took the job as the girls' basketball coach at Snyder High School in Jersey City, he didn't have high expectations.

"We just wanted to help keep kids off the street," said Leahy, who was a long-time assistant coach on the college level at Stevens Tech, then was the head coach at Hudson Catholic for two seasons. "That was the goal. I wanted to be part of that. It wasn't about winning or losing. This was much more important than that."

Still, the competitive fire in Leahy's soul had to be dampened somewhat when the Tigers won all of one game during his first year at the helm, posting a disheartening 1-22 record.

The discouragement had to remain even when Snyder improved leaps and bounds in the second year. The Tigers won three games all season that year.

It had to hard for the players on the team to want to continue playing after winning just four games over a span of two years. Everyone knows that losing gets stale in a hurry. Keeping it fresh after two losing years is another thing.

But Leahy was never discouraged.

"I really didn't have to do anything to make them stay," Leahy said. "They were pretty self-motivated. They wanted to be here. They wanted to come back. We basically had good kids who wanted to be part of something good. I was just happy to be a part of it. Sure, if you've been around winning all your life [Leahy was a player at St. Anthony during the first few championship seasons in the early 1970s], you can get spoiled. But the kids made it easier. They wanted to learn and play."

So last year, the Tigers began to make positive strides in eliminating the losing reputation.

"We were 10-13 last year and won about three games in the league," Leahy said. "You could sense that the girls were getting better."

If you needed proof of the improvement, look no further than guard Khadijah Van Doren, who emerged last year to become the Tigers' leading scorer and one of the best all-around performers in the HCIAA Coviello Division.

"Khadijah made herself into a player," Leahy said. "When she first started playing here, she shot the ball with two hands and she wasn't that good. But she practiced on her own and kept getting better and better. Now, she's being recruited by Union County College and New Jersey City University. It says a lot."

Van Doren, who earned Hudson Reporter All-Area Third Team honors last year, is averaging 14 points, eight rebounds and six assists per game this season for the Tigers, who made another leap towards respectability this year.

The Tigers are currently at .500, with a record of 11-11 and 6-8 in the Coviello Division. They're not exactly world beaters and they're not going to win a championship anytime soon, but the Tigers are going to both the HCIAA Coviello playoffs and the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group II playoffs, the first time that Snyder has qualified for the post-season in over five years.

Van Doren is one of three seniors to stay with the program from the early going, when the team won only once. Jasmere Epps and Tara Ashburn are the others. In today's win-at-all-costs world, it's very hard to find that kind of dedication. Now, those seniors are getting their just reward, heading off to the post-season.

Leahy knew that the steady progress might include playoff berths this year.

"I really thought that we might be able to slip in," Leahy said. "I really felt like we could compete. If we fell short of the playoffs, I still would have been pleased, because they played hard and tried hard. But they've met all of my expectations for the year by qualifying."

As the Coviello playoffs begin Monday, the Tigers still don't know their first-round opponent. More than likely, it will be either of the two powerhouses, namely Bayonne or North Bergen. But the Tigers will be ready. They're going this year. There's no staying home, no putting away the uniforms at this time of the season. There are games left to be played.

Junior point guard LaShawn Overton has been another key member. Overton stands about 5 feet tall and weighs under 100 pounds, but that hasn't stopped her from making a contribution.

"She handles the ball like it's on a string," Leahy said. "She's a little thing, but she's a one-girl press break."

Overton is averaging close to 11 points per game with five assists.

Junior Melissa Blanks is the quintessential role player, handling a variety of roles and positions for the Tigers. Freshman Kim Richburg is a 5-8 forward who has a ton of potential.

"I think she's the most talented kid to come into the building since I've been the coach," Leahy said.

Sophomore Jackie Reyes is the team's center and provides much needed rebounding.

Leahy was asked if there was a big difference coaching girls after coaching college men and boys' high school before taking the Snyder job.

"It's much more different than boys," Leahy said. "I thought I was ready. I mean, I have three daughters and these kids still surprise me. The one thing I noticed is that they leave the game behind more after it's over. Maybe that's why the losing wasn't getting to them like it was getting to me. But the whole thing has been a positive experience. Living in Jersey City, there are a lot of interferences out there that they could get involved with. The odds aren't exactly with them a lot of times, but these kids keep coming back and there's a lot to be said for that."
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