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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS | ERIC SONDHEIMER

Hearlihy Feeds Her Team Dose of Motherly Advice

March 14, 2001|ERIC SONDHEIMER

Coaches promise to teach their players about life experiences.

Melissa Hearlihy delivers every season.

When the Harvard-Westlake High girls' basketball team traveled in a van for a tournament, Hearlihy's infant son kept crying. The players decided to give him a feeding of milk from a bottle.

"He threw up all over them," Hearlihy said.

Welcome to motherhood, ladies.

Hearlihy is Rick Pitino in a pantsuit. Harvard-Westlake won a bidding war from her former employer, Alemany, last year, and she's worth far more than your typical $1,500 high school coaching stipend.

It's not only the three Southern Section titles and six final appearances in 16 years at Alemany that make her so valuable. It's not only the Division III-AA title she won this season when Harvard-Westlake upset the Nos. 1- and 2-seeded teams in the playoffs.

What distinguishes Hearlihy are the lessons she offers beyond Xs and Os, victories and defeats.

"She prides herself on developing not only skilled basketball players but young women," senior Karina Siam said. "She instills in us hard work and good morals. She is a mom for us. You have two sets of parents and you have to answer to her."

Hearlihy, 39, is more than a role model--she's a working mom. Her second son, Kyle, was born three months before the start of basketball practice. Taking him everywhere has allowed Hearlihy to demonstrate to her players the complicated roles a mother assumes in balancing professional and family responsibilities.

Before Kyle, there was Joshua, 7, who'd run around practices at Alemany or play with his electronic gadgets as players sought to hug him like a teddy bear.

Thankfully, Hearlihy's husband, Bill, takes care of the children when she is too busy coaching. And she lets him coach Joshua in youth ball.

"I bite my lip occasionally," Hearlihy said. "I have to remember they're 6- and 7-year-olds. My husband's got the right mentality--he wants them to have fun."

Imposing discipline, whether as a parent or coach, is not Hearlihy's favorite task, but she doesn't avoid her responsibility. That uncompromising approach has gotten her into trouble with parents and players, but those who accept her judgments usually benefit in the long run.

Hearlihy has the ideal qualities and credentials to coach at the college level, but that's not in her future.

"I only looked into it one time when I was young," she said. "Then I decided high school is where I belong. I want to teach basketball as a transition to life. I think that's what sports does and I love it."

The morning after Harvard-Westlake won its section championship, Joshua bumped into his mom in the hallway at home and told her, "That was an amazing game yesterday."

"I smiled, looked at him and thought, 'This is what life is about,' " she said. "Kids are an unbelievable blessing."

*

Cal State Northridge is taking a good-luck charm to the NCAA Midwest Regional in Dayton, Ohio.

Tony Lufton, a Grant High graduate who is the school's play-by-play announcer for its Internet broadcasts, was a manager for UCLA's 1995 NCAA championship team.

He wears a championship ring and allows Northridge players to pass it around.

*

How much has Northridge's basketball success inspired the Valley community?

Meet Linda Mose, who attended Northridge from 1971-77.

"I didn't even know they had a basketball team in those days," she said. "Yesterday, I went to the bookstore and bought a CSUN sweatshirt and my husband, who went to USC, and I bought tickets from a scalper and went to the [Big Sky tournament final]. Wow! We watched the game later on tape and it in no way captured the noise or the excitement of being there. . . . I was so proud."

*

Northridge shouldn't worry that Coach Bobby Braswell might become a candidate for the Nevada Las Vegas job. It's more likely that ESPN, Fox Sports or CBS will hire him away as a television commentator.

In the last 72 hours, Braswell has done more television interviews than he did in his previous five years as coach. Yes, Northridge is a good story, but Braswell is so articulate, composed and pleasant on TV that sports producers should be taking notice.

*

El Camino Real finished 7-18 in boys' basketball, but help is on the way. Sophomore Todd Wolfson, who's 6 feet 7 and still growing, has lots of potential after playing on the junior varsity team. So does sophomore guard Roman Veytsman, another JV player. . . .

Top five boys' basketball teams for 2002: 1. Taft, 2. Thousand Oaks, 3. La Canada, 4. Harvard-Westlake, 5. Oxnard. . . .

Top five girls' teams for 2002: 1. Buena, 2. Saugus, 3. Ventura, 4. Newbury Park, 5. Oxnard. . . .

Most underrated player: Junior point guard Alex Martino of Granada Hills Hillcrest Christian. . . .

Most improved player: Freshman guard Bryce Taylor of Harvard-Westlake. . . .

Player with most Division I potential: Junior guard Chris Darby of Sylmar. . . .

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