When Keith Lane took over at East Brunswick High School before this season, he laid out four simple goals for his squad to reach.
They were to have good team chemistry, to play hard and compete in every game, defend from start to finish in those games, and to win the rebounding battle.
Never in his mind was a 12-win turnaround from the previous season to this, turning the Bears from a 5-20 squad to a 16-7 one. Along the way, East Brunswick scored a major upset victory at Piscataway and earned the top seed in the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament.
Lane is The Home News Tribune’s Coach of the Year.
“This ride was outstanding for us,” Lane said. “As the season progressed, after we beat Piscataway, the girls really started to exceed my expectations that I had for them. Early on, I didn’t know what to expect in my first year, but I laid some building blocks from day one and we centered around building team chemistry and playing hard together. It paid off for us.”
The Bears opened their season 7-1, only dropping a decision to South Brunswick in the All-Brunswick Holiday Tournament Final, and after a loss to eventual Central Group IV champion Colts Neck, East Brunswick won seven of its next eight, with the win at Piscataway highlighting that stretch.
With first place in the division in their pockets, the Bears earned the No. 1 seed in the county tournament, eventually reaching the semifinals before bowing out to surging Bishop Ahr. But Lane never expected his team to get that kind of recognition that early in his head coaching career.
“To be honest, getting the No. 1 seed wasn’t even a thought. We focused more on taking each game one at a time. We wanted to focus on the effort we gave and we battled through the tough Red Division and things fell into place for us,” he said.
With a host of young players on the roster, including the sharp-shooting duo of juniors Dayna Sclafani and Julia Simoes, the future remains bright for Lane and the Bears going forward.
“I’m optimistic about the future, but we can’t relax. There are a lot of good players in this conference and we have to keep getting better,” Lane said. “There’s still a lot of work to do.”