After 46 seasons, 750 wins and nearly three dozen championships, Kathy Matthews has called it a career as the head coach of the Union Catholic High School girls basketball team, pulling up to third place on the list of all-time coaching winners, the history of the NJ girls.
Matthews, 68, who took over a newly started Viking program in 1977 and quickly built the club into one of the top teams in the state, will remain involved with UC in a different capacity than as a coach. But the time has come, she said, for her to take a step back from the day-to-day running of a program. And while she gets much of the credit for the job she’s done for nearly five decades at Scotch Plains School, she’s quick to point out that she did not do it alone.
“I have to thank my coaches, my players, the administration and the talent,” Matthews said. “We have had some really good players, and the program achieved a lot. You do not do that if you do not have the staff you had and the players you had, and you do not have the support from the community at UC that you had. “It all comes into play, because it all comes into play in a positive atmosphere.”
The best example, Matthews said, was this year’s team. It was not the most successful year the Vikings have had in her tenure, finishing 3-18, but for Matthews, the success goes far beyond the numbers on a scoreboard.
“They did not implode. They liked each other. We went through all the adversity together and they were good teammates for each other,” Matthews said. “So whatever the situation, they played hard. They did not give up. We knew what we were and we tried to get the best out of it and it does not always happen. They showed a lot of character. “
Matthews retires with a career record of 750-368, and her final win came on February 21 in a 35-22 over Saint Dominic, which not only featured post-game festivities to mark the milestone, but Matthews said it best was the number. of people who took the trip to Jersey City to help celebrate the brand.
The coach led the Vikings to 13 conference titles, eight Union County championships, five section crowns and three state championships, including a third in a row in 1989 with a team that went to the preliminary tournament in the championship final and fell in overtime to Hoffmann.
“Kathy is an icon in high school basketball,” said New Providence girls basketball coach Cap Pazdera, who has just finished his 17th season at the helm. “From the championships she led her teams to win, to her 46 years of inspiring her teams to greatness both on and off the basketball court, to her 750 victories, she has given everything to her players, her program and the Union Catholic. “I am honored to have trained against her over the last few years and will cherish the wisdom she shared with me. And I will always try to emulate her commitment and compassion towards her players and the sport of basketball.”
As a graduate of JF Kennedy High School in Iselin, where she played softball and tennis, Matthews ironically went to Kean University for his tennis skills, but played not only four years on the courts, but two years of softball. She also got her first taste of basketball, playing hoops for three years with the Cougars.
After college, she served as the JV girls basketball coach at JF Kennedy, and later returned to Kean to guide the softball program for four years, and it was here that she said she realized hoops were the path she wanted. that her career should follow. She moved to Union Catholic, and even worked as a boys’ tennis coach there for a few years, turning the fighting program into a powerhouse.
“I just fell in love with basketball and thought, ‘Wow, that’s really what I want to do,'” Matthews said, “so I walked away from Kean after four years and committed to developing the best program I could.”
Matthews, who is a member of the Woodbridge Township Hall of Fame, the Union Catholic Hall of Fame, the Kean University Hall of Fame and the NJSIAA Coaches Association Hall of Fame, said that while all victories and titles are neat, what she is most proud of has nothing to do with statistics or banners.
“It’s the camaraderie with the kids,” Matthews said. “It’s watching them grow. Not just during my four years of coaching them, but what they achieve in their lives and have been successful. And they see the program in being instrumental in helping them get there. It’s not about victories, it’s not about championships. It’s about seeing young people succeed in life. Learning to deal with life through sport. How to deal with adversity and how to be robust. And when they see that the program and I myself am a contributor to that. That is the most important thing. “
Personnel writer Simeon Pincus can be reached at SPincus@Gannett.com and at CNGirlsHoops@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @SimeonPincus and on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/SimeonPincusCN