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TimesLedger CHSAA Coach of the Year: Joe Lewinger

Joe Lewinger began his second year as The Mary Louis Academy basketball coach by meeting with his team and discussing some of the goals he had for them.

But when he finished by telling the Hilltoppers the last goal was to get to Glens Falls, home of the state Federation tournament, it raised more than a few eyebrows in the tiny gym on Wexford Terrace in Jamaica Estates.

“I was very surprised he said it,” said senior guard Donna Lohrey, who has seen her share of tough seasons at Mary Louis. “At first a lot of girls weren’t so sure, but we trusted him and if he believed, we were 100 percent behind him.”

“At one point people starting to look at him as if to say, ‘what are you talking about,’”added junior Rachele Burriesci. “But I kinda believed him.”

The coach backed up his brash expectations and led The Mary Louis Academy to its first CHSAA and state Federation Class ‘D’ championships. For that and for bringing instant respect to a program always considered a pushover by its opponents, Lewinger is the TimesLegder CHSAA Coach of the Year.

“He had more confidence in us than we had in ourselves,” Lohrey said. “His love for the game and his love for teaching is what makes him special.”

Lewinger, 24, inherited a 5-15 team two years ago and turned it into a squad that went 17-13 this year and has a pair of state championships to add to the school’s trophy case, which is filled mostly with softball awards.

But this year wasn’t all roses. Early on the Hilltoppers lost six straight and it hardly looked like this team would be making the four-hour drive north that Lewinger hoped for.

Mary Louis then began to turn things around. They defeated Francis Lewis and Bishop Kearney to win the Monsignor King tournament. And while he won’t take credit for it, Lewinger is a good reason why Mary Louis is such a tight-knit team.

Before its 64-63 win over Molloy to qualify for the CHSAA state tournament, the Hilltoppers were inseparable. They ate together and went to games together, as a team, during a 16-day layoff.

“He’s a big impact on us, on and off the court,” Burriesci said. “He’s like a big brother to all of us. If we ever have a problem, he’s always there.”

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