PEABODY — Jane Heil has seen it all.
She’s guided the Peabody girls’ basketball program to 26 appearances in the MIAA North state tournament, 17 Greater Boston League titles, and a Northeastern Conference title. She coached her team to a 24-1 record in 1984-85, as the Lady Tanners captured the Division 1 state title and unseated five undefeated teams along the way.
The storied coach, in her 32d season at the helm, has had five 1,000-point scorers: Kristen Foley (’82); her sister Kim (’85); Jen Webster (’93), who then played for Kristin Foley at Drexel University; and DeAnn Larrabee and D’yana Delpero , who both surpassed the plateau in their senior season on the 2003 squad.
And on Thursday, Peabody defeated Everett, 45-28, and Heil recorded her 500th career coaching win. For Heil, reaching 500 wins is gratifying. But even before that achievement, the season has been extraordinary.
There is not a senior on the Lady Tanners’ roster. But behind the leadership of junior captains Alexandra Lomasney and Carolyn Scacchi , Peabody is off to a 4-0 start after compiling a 14-26 record in the last two seasons.
“The last two years were difficult,” Heil said. “We definitely felt we were more talented than we were showing. [This season], in the scrimmages, we were off to such a slow start. But since game one, it’s like a whole new group of kids.”
On Dec. 21, in their third game, they thumped Lynn Classical, one of the Northeastern Conference’s strongest teams, 54-28.
“I can’t tell you I’m surprised,” Heil said. “But maybe the difference is they know they have to go out and get the job done. Things are falling into place, and the girls have goals — legitimate goals that were missing.”
Lomasney, a 5-foot-10 guard and three-year starter, senses the team has a different temperament.
“I feel like there’s been an attitude change,” she said. “We’ve been doing well at practice and trying, instead of just going through the motions. There’s a new determination to win.”
The enthusiasm comes straight from Heil. It’s the same passion that drove her to 309 victories from 1977-1995, before she retired to watch her daughter, Kristin, play at Beverly and Trinity College, only to return to coaching in 2000.
It’s the passion and determination that carried Heil to a 19-2 record in 2003-04, despite being stricken with breast cancer, which has since gone into remission.
“I bleed blue and white,” Heil said. “[In 2003-04], I was able to keep busy and able to focus on living and doing, and not feeling sorry for myself. Everything I’ve given to the program, I’ve gotten back.”
Scacchi, who scored 16 points and had 12 rebounds against Classical, said she admires Heil’s intensity.
“She gets other teams scared,” Scacchi said. “I was scared of her at first when I was a freshman. She can yell at us, but she can be nice. It’s tough love.”
Diane Broughton , the junior varsity coach and Heil’s assistant, played for her and nearly passed the 1,000-point plateau. When Heil retired, Broughton, who graduated in 1989, coached the varsity until she returned.
“The advice I got from my father about coach Heil was to listen to her words, because she has different octaves,” Broughton said, fighting back a smile. “She’s still intense, and she wants to get the best out of the girls.”
Thus far, Heil has extracted exactly that from junior forward Olivia Summit and junior Amanda Matthews , who worked her way into the starting lineup this season.
With the two together, Heil said, “we have a pretty good high-low post game and for the first time in a couple years.”
Freshman guard Sara Hosman , who had 12 points, six steals, and six assists in the Tanners’ second win of the season against Beverly, rounds out the starting lineup.
“She picked up that guard role and she’s awesome at it,” Scacchi said. “If we didn’t have her, we wouldn’t be winning that much.”
The Lady Tanners are climbing toward another run at the MIAA state tournament, and Bob Heil will be on the bench for every victory along the way.
Since they married in 1978 at the start of Jane’s coaching career, Bob has been her assistant, helping draw the X’s and O’s and scouting opponents.
Bob, the freshman girls coach from 1979-83, even helped coach the varsity to a win when Jane was giving birth to their son, Bobby.
“She gets credit — she did all the prep work for that,” Bob said. “Basketball has just been in the family. It’s in our blood. We’re getting older, but this keeps us young.”
Reading’s O’Brien given a final start
Just eight days after Reading senior Morgan O’Brien committed to Assumption College, on the day after Thanksgiving, she tore her ACL in a preseason tournament, ending her senior season before it even started.
O’Brien, just shy of the 1,000-point scoring plateau, would not get to help her team defend its Division 2 state championship. But despite the injury, O’Brien was going to start her senior season — she just didn’t know it.
On Dec. 18 at the Rockets’ home opener against Burlington, Reading coach Kim Penney told O’Brien to bring her uniform for a team photo. Before the opening tip-off, Penney told O’Brien she was starting.
Confused, O’Brien took the floor. Center Olivia Healy won the tap, the ball was passed to O’Brien and, following her coach’s instructions, she threw the ball out of bounds.
O’Brien left the court to a standing ovation and watched her team cruise to a 55-39 win.
She can proudly say she started in her senior season.
“It was a complete surprise,” said O’Brien, who will have surgery Jan. 2. “They were planning it for two weeks. It was amazing because I saw so many people in the stands to support me. I’m so thankful for everyone who took part in it.”
Anthony Gulizia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.