Girls Basketball – SSN Coach of the Year: Joe Whalen, St. Rose
Joe Whalen did not take over the St. Rose girls basketball program to turn an also-ran into a competitive team or even a competitive team into a championship contender.
He took over a championship team in order to keep it a championship team year after year.
For the first four seasons of his tenure at St. Rose, Whalen delivered on those expectations by winning NJSIAA Non-Public B titles in 2014 and 2015, but when it came the Shore Conference – a conference whose tournament St. Rose won the year before he took over – the Roses had come up just short, both within the conference tournament and against other Shore teams in the state tournament.
Multiple teams have ended St. Rose’s title pursuits during Whalen’s tenure, but heading into the year, no team snuffed them out as often as Manasquan. This year, however, the Roses finally solved their rival during the Shore Conference Tournament and won the SCT championship for the first time under Whelan.
Winning a Shore Conference Tournament championship is not far off from winning a Tournament of Champions title in difficulty and for leading the Purple Roses to the top of the mountain in Monmouth and Ocean County during a 26-4 campaign, Whalen was selected the 2016-17 Shore Conference Coach of the Year by his head-coaching peers and is the Shore Sports Network girls basketball coach of the year.
When Whalen took over for Joe Roman in 2012-13, St. Rose had just won a Shore Conference Tournament title with a senior-laden team that also reached the Tournament of Champions semifinal before losing to eventual champion Manasquan. Although Whalen did not take over a talent-barren team, it was a young group that took a year to mature and when it did, the Purple Roses quickly got back to the top tier of the Shore Conference.
In both 2014 and 2015, St. Rose reached both the Shore Conference Tournament final and the Tournament of Champions. The Purple Roses lost to Manasquan on both SCT finals and also lost to the Warriors in the 2015 T of C final. Their 2014 T of C loss came in the semifinals to eventual champion Malcolm X Shabazz.
This year, St. Rose finally got over the hump against Manasquan, but not before enduring one more heartbreak against the Warriors. On Feb. 11 – the day before the Shore Conference Tournament was seeded and in the regular-season finale – Manasquan defeated St. Rose in overtime thanks to a game-tying three-pointer by Dara Mabrey at the fourth-quarter buzzer that sent the game into overtime.
Ten days later, St. Rose got its rematch against Manasquan in the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals and this time, it was the Purple Roses that emerged victorious in overtime. Five days later, St. Rose routed St. John Vianney to capture its third overall Shore Conference Tournament.
The season ended at the hands of Rutgers Prep on the road in the South Jersey Non-Public B semifinal and while the Purple Roses must replace a trio of key seniors – Jen Louro, Ellyn Stoll and Alex Pendergrass – they also return three Division I recruits in Lucy Thomas (Monmouth), Elizabeth Marsicano (St. Joseph’s) and Mikayla Markham (Columbia).
Whalen has spent most of his high school coaching career in the boys game, with stops as an assistant at St. Anthony and St. Patrick, as well as tenures as the head coach at Long Branch and Franklin. His standout assistant at St. Rose is Raheem Carter, who starred at Long Branch before moving on to play at Seton Hall.
In his five seasons at St. Rose, Whalen has guided the Purple Roses to an overall record of 128-21, including 112-15 over the last four years and 32-2 in 2014-15.