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Leadership on the Court
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Everest Collegiate High School basketball teams and coaches make history as school prepares to graduate its first senior class

Seniors Patrick Nalepa, Donald Allen, Sam Bellestri (back row) and Julianna Mastromatteo and Mary Smith (front row)

(Update: Two days after publishing this article, on Friday evening, March 9, 2012, the Everest Collegiate boys varsity team won the Michigan High School Athletic Assocation (MHSAA) District Title.)

Clarkston, Michigan -- Everest Collegiate High School’s website says the school aims to graduate “motivated, self-confident Christian leaders.” The school’s boys´ and girls´ basketball teams are more than fulfilling that goal -- and their coaches as well.

Both teams won the 2012 CHSL (Catholic High School League) Intersectional Division title.  And as if that achievement wasn’t enough, both their head coaches were named “Coach of the Year.”  The girls’ team and coach achieved this feat for the second year in a row!  (In fact, it seems to be a year for the ladies since, interestingly enough, both head coaches are women.)

These 2012 league honors would be an achievement for any school, but Everest Collegiate only opened its doors four years ago in the fall of 2008, and in May 2012, will graduate its first class of seniors. 

The Boys´ Team

Coach Ann Lowney’s varsity boys set as a goal to win the league this year.  In order to accomplish that goal, they would need to commit to becoming physically and mentally stronger and improve their individual games during the off season, according to Lowney.  But this coach was not, and is not, just interested in her team’s physical improvement.

“‘Don´t let God down’ -- I have used this line since the very beginning of my coaching career, no matter if I was coaching at a public or a Catholic school,” she said. “God blessed each of my players with a special talent.  I tell them that if they don´t do everything in their power to develop the talent God gave them, then they are basically telling God, ‘No Thanks.’

“It´s hard to look at the crucifixes in
Boys Basketball
Coach Ann Lowney with players Donald Allen, Patrick Nalepa, Mitch Lasceski, Blake Beauchamp and Richie Cross
our boys’ school chapel and say ‘No Thanks’ to a man who suffered for each of us.”

 “We have a sign in our locker room that says ‘All for Him’ and we chant ‘All for Him’ as a team after our prayer,” said Ann. “Each boy slaps the sign as they exit the locker room.”  The team also prays a rosary on the bus to all away games and attends Mass before every home game.

God has apparently blessed the team’s efforts.

Everest Collegiate finished its regular season 14-6 overall, and 8-2 in the CHSL Intersectional Division play as champion.

Putting up a Banner

Donald Allen, senior and forward on the team, has attended Everest Academy (the lower school that feeds the high school) since it opened its doors in 1991.   He has enjoyed his time at the school, but its lack of sports “history” bothered him.

“We have never put up a (championship) banner,” he said. “It’s almost embarrassing when other schools come in here. I wanted to put up a number this year before I leave.”

Junior point guard Blake Beauchamp said his team was able to pull out the league victory this year because of its chemistry.  Like Allen, Blake has attended Everest ever since he can remember (14 years.)  “I have been playing with these kids all my life.  I know them on and off the court.  We have been friends almost our whole lives.”

“We work together well,” said senior forward Patrick Nalepa. “We want to see each other succeed.  It’s not about individual goals.”

Coach Lowney agrees. “There are no heroes on this team. Each night a different boy can
Ann Lowney and Erin VanWagoner
lead us.  They play together, and they always give 100%.” 

Richie Cross, junior guard, credits his coach for motivating their team’s success.

“She gave us t-shirts with an empty sports banner on them,” he said. “We would wear them off season during work outs and in the weight room.

“As far as Mrs. Lowney goes, she really helped me, especially with my shot,” said Richie. “She has been around the game for so long.  With her, you know you are getting it right.”

An Impressive Resume

Lowney has an impressive resume as a player and coach. (She also serves as the high school athletic director and is a mother of triplets -- 2 girls and one boy in 5th grade at Everest).  Ann began her head coaching career in 1989 at Our Lady of the Lakes (OLL) High School in Waterford, Michigan, as coach of the girls’ varsity team.

“It was a unique situation because I was still playing college basketball at Oakland University (Rochester, Michigan),” she said.  “When I asked my head coach if I could coach OLL, he said sure as long as my commitment to OU came first, and if both teams had a game on the same night, I would play for OU.”

That year her OLL team went 20-4 and won the league title, the division Catholic League title (their first title since 1972) and the District title. 

“I did miss the District Title game because OU had a game the same night,” she said. “During that season ESPN did a feature on me because I was coaching and playing at the same time.”

Click here to see Ann´s overall coaching resume.

Having a Woman Coach

Lowney considers it a huge honor to be named CHSL Coach of the Year (only the second female coach of a boy’s varsity team to receive this title.) “There are a lot of great coaches in the CHSL, and the fact that the other coaches in my league felt I was worthy is even more rewarding.”

When asked if it makes a difference to the Everest players that their coach is a woman, Blake’s words sum it up.

“We don’t think of her as a woman,” he said. 

Blake said Mrs. Lowney prefers coaching boys’ teams.  “She says she has difficulty coaching girls because her personality is more suited to coach guys,” he said. “She can’t get as mad at the girls.”

Ann apparently has no qualms about getting angry at the boys, however.

“She makes you understand that she yells because she cares,” said Patrick. “But she is going to yell.”

Blake said there are advantages to having a woman coach.  “It is true, women are more sensitive.  She just knows how we will react to what she is asking of us.  And she has a close relationship with us
First Trophy
Coach Erin (Hearn) VanWagoner and her team receive their first CHSL league trophy in 2011
– like she is one of our family members.”

Senior guard Sam Bellestri said Mrs. Lowney cares about each player as an individual. “She has dedicated a lot of her time to each of us individually.  And since she was a player, she knows what we as players are thinking.” 

Natalie Lasceski, mother of junior guard Mitch Lasceski, tells a story about how her son defended his coach when his friends mocked the fact that she was a “girl.”

“He said ‘I’ll put my girl coach up against your boy coach any day,’” Natalie said with a grin.

Even Everest Coach Erin Van Wagoner, who was named 2012 CHSL Coach of the Year in the girls’ varsity category, feels humbled to be in the same category with Ann.

“I feel a little unworthy of receiving the same honor as Ann considering I can remember watching her coach AAU and very much looking up to her,” she said. 

Coaching the Girls

Erin herself has an impressive background.  This is the second year she has received the Coach of the Year award from her division peers in the CHSL.

“It is an incredible honor for me,” she said. “I am most honored to have the opportunity to coach this group of talented young ladies in a competitive league filled with many great players and coaches.”

Erin said she realized she wanted to be a basketball coach when she was 11 years old, sitting on the sidelines watching Marian High School (Bloomfield Hills, Michigan) play for the Michigan Girls’ Basketball State Championship in 1992.

“I specifically remember being intrigued with Coach Mary Lily Cicerone… she was able to get her players to do great things with simple hand gestures or words,” said Erin. “Her players exuded a confidence that made them superior to their opponent.  I knew I wanted to coach at the high school level, but I knew
Girls Team
The 2012 CHSL Intersectional Division Champions
I had a lot to learn before I would be awarded the opportunity to coach my own team.”

She said she took every opportunity during high school to coach, play and watch basketball. 

“I coached several AAU teams and assisted as a basketball camp counselor during the summer months,” she said. “I went on to play 4 years of basketball at Albion College (Albion, Michigan).” Erin fondly remembers, during her senior year, the Albion team being awarded their very first opportunity to play in the NCAA tournament. 

She also worked with Albion’s men’s basketball coach, Mike Turner, to develop a student athlete mentor program through the local elementary school to allow college athletes to mentor elementary students for a year. “Through this program, I learned that the disciplines of athletics can be translated to classroom learning,” she said. “This experience showed me I was being called to be an educator.”

Erin credits most of what she knows about coaching to her former high school coach, Dave Joseph (an 18-year veteran coach at Oakland Catholic/ Notre Dame Prep High School in Pontiac, Michigan).  When he accepted the girls’ varsity head coach position at Bishop Foley High School in Madison Heights, Michigan, he asked her to join him as his assistant.  “I attended Notre Dame Prep and developed a great player-coach relationship with him,” said Erin.

While still coaching at Bishop Foley, Erin started work as a teacher at Everest and simultaneously coached the 7th and 8th grade girls’ basketball team for two seasons. Many of her current players started to play for her at this time.

In addition to coaching, Erin now serves as dean of the Everest Collegiate and Academy Girls’ schools.

Second Year in a Row

Everest’s varsity girls’ basketball team boasted a 6-0 record in league play, and went 13-6 overall.  This is the second year in a row the team has won the league title.

Of her team’s season, Erin said, “This team has the desire and willingness to learn more about the game of basketball, and the girls realize mental toughness is necessary to take things to the next level. Our knowledge of the game and individual skills have improved tremendously over the past two seasons and will continue to do so with repetition, practice, and commitment.”

“Mrs. Van Wagoner knows how to make us work hard, and she works hard herself,” said sophomore forward Mary Jo Allen.  “She puts in a lot of time and effort.  She sees us in school, and knows a lot about us individually.  We strive to be like her.  She is a role model.”

Like the boys, many of the players have been going to school together for quite some time.

Junior guard Sarina Nallamothu has attended Everest since kindergarten.  “It’s not like going to a big school.  We all know each other. We see each other every day.”

Angie Mastromatteo, sophomore point guard, said the fact that team members know each other well is a huge advantage for Everest. “We know our strengths and weaknesses, and we work as a team. It is not just ‘I’ but ‘everyone.’”

“We all motivate each other,” said Kersten Engle, sophomore forward.  She is thankful for the leadership of the teams’ two senior players, Mary Smith and Juliana (Jules) Mastromatteo.  “They always tell us to challenge ourselves, and don’t take the easy route.”

Mary doesn’t deny she and Jules are tough on the younger players. “We wanted to set an initial goal that we were out to win,” she said simply.

“We set personal and team goals and encourage each other to work to our fullest potential both on the court and off,” said Jules. “We can all relate in one way or another…we bring out our anger positively on the court and remain friends throughout.”

This team has bridged the age gap common at most schools, according to Mary Jo (Allen).  “Before basketball, I might not have even talked to the seniors. Now they are some of my best friends.”

Like Ann Lowney, Erin has tried to develop the team’s spiritual side.  “As a coach, I acknowledge that each of my players has unique God-given gifts to contribute to our team,” said Erin. “I see the challenges we face to use our talents for the greater good.”

Her team has always offered their practices and games for a special prayer intention agreed upon by the team. “It is extremely impressive to see a group of young athletes offering their sweat and labor for an individual or group in need of prayers,” she said.

Jules agrees with her coach, saying the Everest team gives “credit to God before and after every game or practice.”

Both coaches had words of thanks for their graduating seniors.

“Without their commitment to Everest Collegiate, the memories we built over the past three years wouldn´t have been possible,” said Ann. “In order to open the high school we needed students and because of Patrick, Sam and Donny and their parents, the EC student body and the Everest fans have many wonderful memories that will be retold for generations.” 

“Our seniors have led this team in building the foundation that will stand firm for many teams in the future,” said Erin. “I am extremely pleased and thankful for their hard work and dedication.”

(Everest Collegiate´s junior varsity boys´ team also won the CHSL Intersectional Division title this year - a sign of things to come...)




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