McNair Academic captures first-ever HCIAA title Cougar girls top High Tech under first-year head coach Cossolini

How about this for a resume?

· Winner of an HCIAA Coviello championship as a first-year high school basketball player, 2000.

· Winner of an HCIAA Seglio championship as a first-year high school basketball coach, 2008.

Well, that’s the resume now owned by 22-year-old Annie Cossolini, who won the HCIAA Coviello title as a freshman point guard for St. Dominic Academy in 2000 and now is the proud coach of the HCIAA Seglio Division champion McNair Academic Cougars, after defeating High Tech, 44-42, last Saturday in the Seglio finale.

Incredibly, Cossolini achieved both feats in her first year of playing and first year of coaching. Talk about instant success. And it was the first time that either school had captured an HCIAA basketball championship.

Cossolini also becomes the first person to win an HCIAA girls’ basketball championship as a player and as a coach.

“Although it really hasn’t sunk in yet, I haven’t stopped smiling,” Cossolini said. “It’s a different feeling as a coach than as a player. As a player, I think you have more control of what’s going on. As a coach, you really don’t have much control. You have to rely on the players performing.”

While Cossolini didn’t know what to expect from the Cougars when she took over the program in the fall, some of the players had high expectations. They had suffered too many seasons of losing and knew that this was going to become a breakthrough season.

“We never even made the playoffs before,” said senior forward Christi McGarry, who was the Most Valuable Player of the championship game, scoring 18 points and grabbing 13 rebounds. “But we knew we had possibility this year, because we had good senior leaders who had been through everything and if we worked together, we could become a good team.”

And now, these Cougars get to put a banner on the wall to go along with the countless others the school has won for track and field over the years.

“It’s a part of history,” McGarry said. “It’s an honor and the greatest privilege. It’s really a dream come true and a great way for us to finish our senior year. I don’t think any of us will forget the day that we finally won. I know I will hold it with me until the day I die. It’s such an invigorating feeling. It’s unbelievable and it’s euphoric. I thought I never would have been good enough to play varsity basketball and now I’m the MVP of a county championship game. Go figure.”

McGarry said that the team was inspired when they knew of Cossolini’s past.

“We knew that she was a great player in high school and college [Mount St. Mary’s in Newburgh, N.Y.],” McGarry said. “I think any of us would have given anything to be in the same position that she was. I think we realized that we had the people who were willing to be in that position.”

Cossolini said that she has been impressed with the performances of her players.

“It’s really remarkable,” Cossolini said. “They’ve definitely surpassed any expectations. The senior leadership that this team had was fantastic. They were determined that they just weren’t going to lose.”

Cossolini reminded them that the trip to the finals could be a once-in-a-lifetime event. After all, she got one other chance to win a county crown her senior year at SDA, but the Blue Devils lost in the finals to Bayonne.

“That’s what we said in the pre-game talk,” Cossolini said. “We don’t know when we’ll get another chance to be here, so carpe diem.”

Although the Cougars’ season ended with a loss to North Arlington in the first round of the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I playoffs Tuesday, Cossolini will never be disappointed by the history-making season.

“This memory is never going to fade,” Cossolini said. “I don’t know if it’s really sunk in yet, winning the championship in my first year. It’s a nice feeling. This team has accomplished so much. Looking back, no one expected this. It’s beyond my wildest dreams. I wrote them all a letter and told them that I was so proud of them.”

The only question is: What does Cossolini do for an encore, after accomplishing so much so fast?

“I guess we try to win it again,” Cossolini said.

Good answer. – Jim Hague


© 2000, Newspaper Media Group