Jersey Mike’s ’19-’20 SSN Girls Basketball Coach of the Year: Shannon Coyle Long Branch
Shannon Coyle is an inspiring educator dedicated to grooming pupils, be it those who hang on her every word in the pre-kindergarten class she oversees at Morris Avenue or the players who share a similar reaction when she holds court in the gym at Long Branch High School.
One of her finest qualities is a seamless flexibility to teach and to motivate, from the youthful innocence involved in memorizing the ABCs to the complexity of getting teenagers to understand the values of executing the Xs and Os of basketball. Coyle is in her comfort zone when surrounded by sponges open to absorbing the wisdom delivered from a source who knows what greatness looks like.
As a gritty guard at St. John Vianney from 1999 to 2003, Coyle helped the Lady Lancers to a Shore Conference Tournament title as a junior, sank 61 threes in a senior year that included a Non-Public A state title and was part of a four-year run in which SJV went 85-23. During her time in Holmdel, she got acquainted with a high standard of excellence.
When she arrived as the head coach at Long Branch eight years ago, it was impossible to place such lofty expectations on her program, one that experienced its last winning season in 1997. The Green Wave had fallen on hard times and looked to Coyle not to build a dynasty but to restore something far greater - self-esteem.
Thus, the prevalence of tears that flowed inside the locker room in the aftermath of a 59-40 loss to Montgomery on March 5 oddly filled Coyle's heart with joy. She had finally struck the nerve she’d spent so much time desperately seeking to find, knowing her historic group that put Long Branch back on the map, was emotionally committed to the journey they had proudly navigated yet distraught to see it end.
"For us, that was the most touching moment of the season,” Coyle shared. “We sat there having a conversation heart to heart and I’m getting choked up, they’re all crying. I told them when you think about where we started from to how far we came, these were good tears and this was the time it was okay to cry. In a way, everyone was happy.”
To say Long Branch endured a prolonged stretch of lean years would be an understatement. Over the previous 22 seasons, the Green Wave was a collective 110-375, enduring one losing campaign after another with far too little to celebrate other than the annual courage of players to persevere during trying times.
Upon arriving at her first head-coaching gig, Coyle made three points her top priorities. The first was to change the culture one small step at a time. The second was getting those she worked with to be accountable for their actions in the classroom and be exemplary ambassdors of the program. And third, she urged her players to recognize their full potential, to not measure gains on wins and losses but on development of chemistry necessary to increase the former and decrease the latter in a steady ascent toward reclaiming respectability.
All of that came to a head this winter. The Green Wave rode the crest of a 5-0 start that featured a title in the Lady Wave Tournament it hosted over the holiday break. A subsequent string of losses to Marlboro, Howell and Middletown South was an ominous sign to outsiders that perhaps old habits were resurfacing.
Long Branch refuted that notion, running off seven successive wins, finishing tied with Middletown South for second place in the A North behind Marlboro with an 8-4 divisional mark. It marched into the Shore Conference Tournament as the 10th seed and took out Southern in the first round before valiantly bowing to seventh-seeded Red Bank, 62-55 in the round of 16.
The Green Wave locked up the fifth seed for the Central Jersey, Group 4 tournament and scored a 50-38 home win over Old Bridge in the opening round. What made the victory even sweeter the large collection of fans who assembled to show their appreciation for a long climb back to respecatbility that sadly ended with a tearful 59-40 loss to eventual sectional champion Montgomery in the quarterfinals, closing the book on a satisfying 17-6 performance.
"They grew together by fighting through adversity," said Coyle, the 2020 Shore Sports Network Girls Basketball Coach of the Year. "As a coach, you have to address certain roles of the team...let them know where the ball is going at the end of a game, reinforce each player's best quality. You are a good rebounder, be really great at that. You can shoot the jumper, work on getting even better from the outside. We started seeing the light bulbs go in. It clicked and we were playing together."
A senior-laden cast that featured dynamic 6-0 guard Anyssa Fields, tenacious forward Maddie Grayson, streak-shooting Alanna Lynch and junior playmaker Jada Rogers fulfilled the most important goal Coyle could establish. Their indisputable bond on the court hatched a cohesive operating system as well as a breakthrough showing.
"This was a great group who people wanted to support," Coyle said. "I think more kids will come out and be more involved in the off season. It was an eye-opening experience for the kids and the parents. They liked the feeling of winning. We have some middle schoolers growing more involved and they jumped on board AAU. It should only go up from here."