Lisa Gedaka paces the sidelines as if she’s trapped in the eye of a storm.
She stomps her feet, she’s loud. She’s tough. she appears to be in constant motion, as if she’s one whistle away from grabbing the ball and running the offense herself.
After 29 years of coaching the Gloucester Catholic girls’ basketball team, Gedaka is still one of most energized forces in South Jersey — across any sport.
“As you can tell,” she said, “I’m passionate about what I do.”
And as long as she is, Gedaka said, she’ll keep doing it.
On Saturday afternoon, Gedaka’s Rams topped Camden Catholic, 62-51, marking the 600th win of Gedaka’s storied career.
Gedaka, whose record stands at 600-172, is just the third South Jersey girls’ coach to reach the milestone. The other two are former Wildwood Catholic coach Dave Troiano and Chris Palladino, who happened to be coaching against Gedaka on Saturday.
“Truly — it’s so not about me. I’ve been blessed for 29 years with great players,” said Gedaka, after her team presented her with flowers and balloons. “From the bottom of my heart, I thank those players who work so hard, day in and day out.”
This is far from the first milestone of Gedaka’s career, and she said that while she’s not the type to dwell on these moments — and certainly not the type to pat herself on the back — she does find herself reflecting during times such as these, at least for a bit.
“I think about the faces — every kid that I coach has a hand in this milestone,” said Gedaka, who was also a standout player at Gloucester Catholic in the early 1980s before a career at Villanova that landed her in the Big Five Hall of Fame. “I still remember the first class I coached in 1989, all the way up to today. And I’m still close with so many of them. I always tell them that I’m tough. But at the end of the day, it’s not about basketball, it’s about them as individuals. I’ve tried to do what I can to be a good role model.
“That’s why I just feel blessed and thankful and humbled in moments like this.”
At the other end of the sideline, Palladino was happy to welcome Gedaka to the 600 Club.
And in a moment of reflection herself, she echoed Gedaka when she talked about what keeps her going.
“It’s the girls — it’s about helping these girls and teaching them. Basketball is a game, but these are life lessons,” Palladino said. “So I’m happy for [Gedaka]. I think it’s awesome. In this day and age to be able to coach that long is a credit to her perseverance, and it’s a credit to her family. Because this is an entire family commitment.”
On Saturday, Gloucester Catholic (23-3) jumped out to a double digit, first-half lead and was up by 15 at halftime, only to have the lead slip through its fingers as Camden Catholic (17-9) cut the lead to four in the fourth quarter.
As she has all season, star guard Azana Baines was a steadying presence for the Rams. She scored seven of her game-high 24 points in the fourth, including a three-pointer that set off a decisive run to help the Rams put the game away.
As much as she’s known for her on-court passion, Gedaka, whose daughter starred for the Rams ans now plays at Villanova, also is known for her knowledge of the game, for her ability to teach off the court — and for going that extra step for her players.
That’s what Baines pointed to after the win.
“Even in the recruiting process, she’s been so helpful to me,” said Baines, a junior who has been pursued by a dozen or more big-name colleges. “So big congrats to her. She shows every day that she loves this team, she loves the players and she wants the best for us.”
Gloucester Catholic 20 18 8 16 — 62
Camden Catholic 9 14 16 12 — 51
GC: Michala Nelio 2, Azana Baines 24, Jada Williams 14, Mycala Carney 9, Bella Steidel 7, Lindsey Eggers 4, Kaitlin Racobaldo 2.
CC: Maggie Bednarek 10, Kate Deutsch 14, Abby Paolini 12, Eliana Santana 4, Annaliah Maldonado 7, Kayla Johnson 4..