St. Jerome girls win first major basketball championship in 50 years
By Chris McManes
St. Jerome Parish has an outstanding basketball tradition. Most of it, however, is on the boys’ side. This year, it’s the girls who have cleared room in the trophy case.
For the first time since 1970, the St. Jerome varsity girls won the Catholic Youth Organization’s 14U Mid-Atlantic City Championship. It is CYO’s premier girls division.
“St. Jerome’s boys have had so much success over the years that I think it just makes sense for us to have a good girls basketball program,” Head Coach Alick Dearie said. “For this particular group of girls to have won the championship with such class is impressive. It really was a team effort.”
The Jaguars captured the late-February crown at Stone Ridge School in Bethesda, with a 38-21 victory over Little Flower, the two-time reigning champion. St. Jerome finished 19-2 (.905 winning percentage).
Dearie, an assistant coach at Eleanor Roosevelt High School when it won the 2002 boys state championship, said this year’s club was “by far” his favorite team to coach.
“The thing I’m most proud of is that they’re all good kids,” he said. “They were always good to each other and always locked in. I never had a problem with anyone. They always played hard, had a smile on their face and did what I asked. It was a blast to coach them.
“I’m really proud to have done it with a bunch of girls that I’ve had for a long time.”
The Jaguars began the season on Thanksgiving weekend by winning the Dick Brown Memorial Turkey Shootout at St. Jerome and added tournament titles hosted by Holy Child and Holy Trinity.
In the playoffs, the Jaguars defeated St. John the Baptist, 51-10, and Blessed Sacrament, 38-32. Their triumph over Little Flower avenged an earlier 0ne-point loss. Danielle Foster was named Most Valuable Player.
Twelve of St. Jerome’s 13 players are in seventh or eighth grade. In addition to Foster, the principal starters were River Adams, Carsyn Deanes, Kerri Greene and Kisa Lilley. Teammates included Reese Dearie (Alick’s daughter), Nyela Djossou, London Jones, Indira Onunkwo, Siya Ramdat, Serena Teachey, Alyssa Webster and sixth-grader Sabrina Walters.
“We had some really good players,” said Dearie, who has been assisted the past five years by Ugonna Onunkwo. “I’ll be shocked if you don’t see some of these girls playing Division I [college basketball] down the road.”
Climbing the ranks
Dearie began coaching an 8U co-ed team in 2013-14. By 2017, he had reached the 12U level. Things didn’t go well for the Jaguars when they played their first game in the Turkey Shootout.
“Blessed Sacrament, which has become our big rival, beat us by 30-something,” Dearie said. “It was a learning experience. But we got better and better every game. We ended up making the semifinals in our region, which was remarkable, given how we started.”
St. Jerome’s 2018-19 12U team won its region and captured a postseason city title at the Victory Youth Center in Southeast Washington. “We had come a long way since our first game against Blessed Sacrament,” Dearie said.
That season’s 14U squad lost in the CYO city championship semifinals against Mary of Nazareth. One of the Jaguars’ most memorable wins came at home in the regular season against the same team. With the score tied, St. Jerome won as time expired.
“We ran an out-of-bounds play under our basket with one second left and scored to win,” Dearie said. “It’s one of my favorite wins ever.”
While Dearie was building his championship team, the Jaguar girls program was steadily improving. In 2016-17, Steve Baur coached a 14U squad that advanced to the championship of the tournament division (one level below Mid-Atlantic) undefeated.
Dearie’s club has been bolstered by girls from outside St. Jerome Academy. Under CYO rules, such players can participate if they attend a Catholic school or belong to a parish that doesn’t have a team.
“I hit the jackpot with Alick,” St. Jerome Athletic Director Joe Sego said. “He showed from day one that he was the right guy for the job. He’s an incredible motivator with a ton of energy. The girls love him.”
Dearie is already looking forward to next season.
“I’m going to have a group of kids that have been with me since 8U,” he said. “That’s going to be fun.”
Chris McManes has coached baseball and basketball at St. Jerome.