Jackie Dyer, who proved to be one of the better girls basketball coaches in the state during her tenure at Cranford, has returned to her own playing roots as an assistant to the legendary Kathy Matthews at Union Catholic as the Vikings add to superb coaching staff. (Photos by Gene Nann-genenann.smugmug.com)
Dyer Joins Matthews Staff At UC
In Returning To Her Hoops Roots
By JR Parachini
Jackie Dyer was part of the storied past and now is back to become entrenched in what she hopes will be an even more successful present and future of what is Union Catholic girls basketball.
After stepping down as head coach at Cranford following last basketball season, Dyer made the decision to join the firm of Matthews, Douglas and Piasecki.
That means you can go home again and Dyer did just that, returning to her high school alma mater as an assistant coach. Kathy Matthews, now in her 44th season at the helm of the Vikings, can not only count on longtime assistants Bruce Douglas and Karen Piasecki for assistance, but also now on Dyer, a 2001 UC graduate.
Also in the mix is new junior varsity coach Stephanie Green, a 2003 UC grad. Dyer, as a senior, and Green, as a sophomore, helped lead the Vikings to their last – and still record eighth – Union County Tournament championship exactly 20 years ago during the 2000-2001 campaign.
One of the best girls basketball coaches in the state, Dyer served Cranford extremely well the past 13 seasons and two years before that as its JV coach.
After leading the JV team to the county championship in 2007, Dyer succeeded Brian Chapman, a 1987 UC graduate, as Cranford’s head coach for the 2007-2008 season. In her 13 seasons at Cranford Dyer guided the Cougars to 196 wins, including the UCT championship in 2016 and North Jersey, Section 2, Group 3 state championships in 2010 and 2013.
Dyer, who will turn 38 on Feb. 11, is very excited about the new avenue her coaching career as taken.
“Kathy and I talked for years about possibly coaching together,” said Dyer. “I had such an amazing experience as a player at Union Catholic.”
Union Catholic finished 19-7 overall last season and reached the UCT semifinals for the first time since 2005, shared the UCC’s Mountain Division championship with New Providence, both going 9-1 in league play and splitting against each other. New Providence also moved back up to the Watchung Division, as did Summit, which was third in the Mountain Division last year at 6-4.
As far as her decision to step down at Cranford: “it was just time for us to go our separate ways,” Dyer said. “It was a mutual decision with Cranford after the season. It was time to move on.”
Does Dyer have aspirations of being a head coach again? You bet. Could it possibly be at UC one day? Could she be the successor to Matthews?
“Kathy has said that when she decides to retire she would want a former player of hers to take her place,” said Dyer, who as Jacqueline Huber was a resident of Maplewood when she attended UC.
That’s not the conversation at the moment. Matthews, the only coach UC has ever known beginning with the 1977-1978 season, remains the head coach for the foreseeable future.
“I would never bring it up,” Dyer said.
Here’s what Matthews said about Dyer coming aboard as stated in a story on Union Catholic’s athletics website: “When I found Jackie was available, I got in contact with her right away. Jackie has always been a Lady Viking and I’ll always remember her team concept as a player.”
Dyer played for UC when Matthews reached her 500th win. Matthews won her 600th game at Oak Knoll and then reached 700 wins at home during the second-half of the 2016-2017 season.
“She was always all about the team,” Matthews continued. “Jackie has won championships as a player and a coach and I’m excited to have her on the staff. Words just can’t describe how happy I am. This is a win-win all around.”
Matthews, the second-winningest coach in state history, enters the season with a record of 741-344 (.683). Add the 196 wins Dyer has at Cranford and you now have 937 wins on the bench, in addition to Douglas being there since 1980 and Piasecki, a 1984 grad who played for Matthews, there since 1988.
“It’s a little weird not being in control as the head coach, but Coach Matthews has things broken down for us (coaches),” Dyer said. “I welcome the change.”
Chapman, who guided Cranford to its first UCT title his second-to-last season with the Cougars in 2006, was Dyer’s physical education teacher at UC.
“That’s how I got the job at Cranford, Brian was looking for a JV coach,” said Dyer, who began in that position at Cranford immediately after graduating from the University of Hartford.
“I have really great memories at Cranford,” said Dyer, who now resides in West Orange. ”We won a county championship there, two section titles and 196 games. I’ll get to 200 wherever I go next.
“I still talk to the girls who played for me. I began coaching when I was a baby at 22 and tried to be taken seriously in male-dominated profession.
“I wanted to take young, student-athletes and form them into being responsible citizens on and off the court. I had two valedictorians in back-to-back years.”
Those standout players were Morgan Miller (Cranford Class of 2012) and Kaitlin McGovern (Cranford Class of 2013).
Miller, who went on to play at Lafayette, and McGovern, who went to Bucknell, both played in Dyer’s 100th win at Cranford, a 51-36 sectional quarterfinal triumph at home over Nutley on Feb. 29, 2012.
Just a couple of years before one of the players Dyer had to game-plan for was Roselle Catholic standout Allison Skrec, the Union County Player of the Year in 2009 as a junior and again in 2010 as a senior. Cranford was one of only three teams to defeat RC in 2010.
Dyer had great success against the Lions, who won three straight UCT championships in 2009, 2010 and 2011 and then won the UCT again in 2014 and 2018. RC’s first of six UCT titles came in 2003 against UC.
Skrec has succeeded Dyer as head coach at Cranford, which – like it was for Dyer - is her first head coaching position.
“Allison was a really great player and great in college and she got a lot of experience coaching with her dad,” Dyer said. “I feel better that the girls are with a coach that knows the game and knows how to win and can get them to where they want to be.”
Union Catholic is scheduled to play at Cranford Feb. 3 at 5:30 p.m., the first of its two Watchung Division games against the Cougars.
“When I walk into that gym it’s a good place of memories for me,” Dyer said. “Obviously I want to win, but it will be nice to see the girls.
“I will have to separate and focus on what’s going on at the time.”
Dyer’s most memorable victory did not take place in Martin Gymnasium.
That occurred on a Monday night in early March of 2013 when the Cougars traveled to Berkeley Heights. After losing to GL in the 2012 UCT final and again in the 2013 UCT semifinals, sixth-seeded Cranford won at top-seeded GL 56-51 in the 2013 North Jersey, Section 2, Group 3 state championship game. Cranford swept GL in division play that season, but those victories were nothing compared to winning at GL that night before a packed house and totally loud and crazy environment.
A super thrilling game that went down to the very last play, Cranford never trailed en route to winning the section for the second time in four seasons.
“One of the parents was able to get us into the little gym at St. Michael’s to practice the day before,” Dyer recalled. “We went over all of our plays and were very confident going up against them again. We played really well and had to in order to beat them.”
‘FLEXIBLE’ IS THE THEME FOR THIS TRUNCATED SEASON
So what is it like coaching during a pandemic?
“UC runs a very tight ship,” Dyer said. “We follow all the protocols, all the rules and regulations. We have no fear going in.
“Flexible is the word for the season. We’re taking it one day at a time.”
“Our girls have done a lot of work on their own, are in shape and are eager to play.
“We’re extremely grateful here that our kids have this opportunity to play, especially for their mental health. It brings back some kind of normalcy.
“They have to be careful, though, like not going out and staying away from large gatherings if they want to do something they love, if they want to play.”
PROLIFIC SCORER JOHNSON BACK TO LEAD VIKINGS
Senior guard Madison Johnson poured in 425 points in 26 games for a 16.3 average last year. She is the leading returning scorer among players in the UCC.
Johnson also led the Vikings last year in free throws made with 51, rebounds with 130 and assists with 54.
Sabrina Araujo, a junior guard last season, paced UC with 43 3s and finished with 190 points, 40 rebounds and 40 steals in 23 games played.
UNION CATHOLIC VIKINGS
Jan. 26 Summit, 4 p.m.
Jan. 28 at Westfield, 4 p.m.
Jan. 30 at Oak Knoll, 10 a.m.
Feb. 3 at Cranford, 5:30 p.m.
Feb. 5 at New Providence, 5:30 p.m.
Feb. 8 Oak Knoll, 4 p.m.
Feb. 10 at Roselle Catholic, 7 p.m.
Feb. 12 at Summit, 4 p.m.
Feb. 17 Westfield, 4 p.m.
Feb. 24 Cranford, 4 p.m.
Feb. 26 New Providence, 4 p.m.
March 3 Roselle Catholic, 4 p.m.
UNION COUNTY CONFERENCE
GIRLS BASKETBALL FOR 2021 SEASON
WATCHUNG DIVISION (7 schools):
MOUNTAIN DIVISION (7 schools):
VALLEY DIVISION (7 schools):
UNION COUNTY CONFERENCE
FINAL GIRLS BASKETBALL STANDINGS
FOR THE 2019-2020 SEASON
WATCHUNG DIVISION (4 schools):
1-Westfield (5-1) – outright champions
2-Oak Knoll (4-2)
4-Roselle Catholic (0-6)
MOUNTAIN DIVISION (6 schools):
1-New Providence (9-1) – co-champions
Union Catholic (9-1) – co-champions
5-Scotch Plains (2-8)
VALLEY DIVISION (6 schools):
1-Gov. Livingston (9-1) – co-champions
Elizabeth (9-1) – co-champions
4-Kent Place (4-6)
SKY DIVISION (6 schools):
1-Hillside (9-0) – outright champions
5-Roselle Park (2-8)
Hillside did not host Benedictine.
Follow JR Parachini on Twitter @parachini_jr
Jackie Dyer enjoyed her 13 seasons guiding the Cranford Cougars while enjoying nice success including UCT title and two state sectional crowns.
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