In the waning seconds of her team’s close win against Manchester Township last month, Gloucester Catholic girls basketball coach Lisa Gedaka watched nervously from the sidelines as her players were on defense during the final possession.
Up by two points with fewer than 10 seconds to go, a member of Gedaka’s team missed a foul shot before the ball was rebounded by Manchester. That player went the length of the court, drove the lane and put up a layup with mere seconds to spare.
Fortunately for the Rams, the ball rolled across the rim and out, thus securing the victory for Gloucester Catholic.
Gedaka stamped her feet and celebrated with her players before embracing a few of them for a team hug. She had just won her 661st career game as a head coach – all with Gloucester Catholic – to become the winningest female head coach of girls basketball in South Jersey history.
Yet, Gedaka didn’t realize she had just broken the record. She wasn’t celebrating a milestone, but rather enjoying her team’s eighth win of the season and the extension of its winning streak to four games after a nail-biting finish.
“I truthfully had no idea,” Gedaka said. “I was really excited following that win and showed plenty of excitement because that was a huge win for us. Going in, I knew it would be a tough game and that was just my reaction to a win to be honest.”
It wasn’t until Gloucester Catholic’s game two days later against Cinnaminson that Gedaka would learn the relevance of the victory against Manchester, when she was recognized in a pregame ceremony with family, friends and past players in attendance.
“All my former players were there and I was just seeing so many faces that I didn’t really listen to what was being said during that pregame ceremony that I had to ask my assistant coach when I walked off the floor what it was all for,” Gedaka said. “It was all such a surprise, I had no idea at all.”
The coach’s excitement over what some might say was just another regular-season game in the middle of a long season is among reasons Gedaka has been so successful over the course of her 33-year career with the Rams.
“My passion for the game has not diminished at all, that’s for sure,” she added.
After graduating from Villanova University and finishing her playing career, the Gloucester Catholic alumna found an opening for the head coach position at the school. Gedaka said she hadn’t considered coaching before graduation and instead was prepared for the start of her nursing career. She decided to apply anyway, just to see what might happen.
What happened was that Gedaka got the job and started what became one of the most successful coaching careers in state high-school history. When starting the job, she said she simply planned to coach the way she played: as prepared and invested as possible.
“I was very shocked, and very honored, that I got the job,” Gedaka said. “My approach was just to coach how I played, with that being to work as hard as I can, make sure my team is always as prepared as possible and always have them work incredibly hard.”
Having attained the winningest coach title, Gedaka needs only a handful more wins to reach 683 and surpass the all-time mark for male or female head coaches. Former Wildwood coach Dave Troiano holds the current record of 682 wins.
Gedaka acknowledged she was unaware of the all-time record until her recent milestone victory. Personal records or accolades are not what she focused on as a player, and Gedaka hasn’t sought them as a coach either. Yet she appreciates their significance and was moved by the return of so many former players to honor her before the Cinnaminson game two weeks ago.
“It was incredibly moving,” Gedaka said. “I coach every year because of them, and to see them come back, for me, was just incredibly moving. I’m so grateful for them … because coaching is all about the players I’ve been blessed to have coached for so many years now.”