Tag: Joe Whalen

Aquinas girls’ coach Joe Whalen stepping down after three seasons, two GMCT titles

St. Thomas Aquinas head coach Joe Whalen hasn’t let Multiple Sclerosis define him, not at any time since his summer 2021 diagnosis. In fact, it was something few people outside the program even knew he had by the time his Trojans had won their first GMC Tournament title under his wing, and their third straight overall.

But ultimately, MS does require taking care of one’s self. And that’s the decision Whalen has now made, stepping down as the head coach of the STA program.

He actually made the decision during the season. He wanted to announce it before the GMC Tournament Finals, so there was no going back. Because a coach always has that lingering question in his or her mind: Is it the right time to leave? Do I have one more in me?

In the end, he decided to wait until after the season, though his players knew sooner, in varying stages, starting with the seniors like Jessica Cooper and Nia Clemons, D-1 recruits who are going to Albany and Caldwell, respectively.

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Whalen debuted in the COVID-shortened season, which saw the Trojans go 9-5, 7-0 in the GMC Red, but falling to Monroe on their home floor in the final of the four-team GMC Somogyi Family Pod.

What followed were back-to-back 20-win seasons: 22-4 last year, 22-7 this year, with GMC Tournament titles both seasons. That’s a total 53-16 record for Whalen in three seasons, and a 35-1 record in Red Division play, the lone loss coming also to Monroe, last year, on the road, in the regular season. They didn’t lose a single Red Division home game under Whalen’s tenure.

Central Jersey Sports Radio’s Mike Pavlichko got a chance to talk with Whalen as he departs Aquinas, and gets set to leave the keys to a successor who is expected to be announced in the coming weeks.

Click below to listen to the interview:

Shubick’s 22, four players in double figures, pesky defense all get No. 2 Aquinas past Colonia

The score at the end of the first eight minutes essentially told the entire story.


Colonia was held without a field goal by No. 2 St. Thomas Aquinas for the first eight minutes of the game, and then again for the first 1:06 of the second quarter. But by that time, most of the damage had been done.

STA built onto the lead, steadily but surely the entire game, with the only mystery whether they would or would not score their biggest margin of victory in the series.

Spoiler alert: they did not eclipse the 54-point win they had in 2018 over the Patriots, but did win 83-33 in a game heard on Central Jersey Sports Radio Thursday night.

Aquinas will get the top seed in the GMC Tournament when the seeds are announced Friday morning. The Red Division Champions have now won 24 straight divisional games, and 43 straight on their home floor, dating back to 2018. They have also won 71 of their last 84 divisional games overall since 2017-18.

Junior guard Amaraillis Shubik had game-high honors with 21 points, four shy of a career-high 25 she set Tuesday night in a narrow two-point loss to Saddle River Day, one of the state’s best programs.

Sophomore Leah Crosby chipped in 18, fellow soph Adrianna Summerset added a career-high 12, all in the second half, and senior Albany Commit Jessica Cooper chipped in ten points.

As impressive as the scoring was, the defense was even more, holding Colonia’s Taylor Derkack and Mattison Chiera – averaging about 36 points per game combined – to just eight in the first half, and 13 through the first three quarters Derkack finished with 12, while Chiera chipped in 11.

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Click below for postgame reaction brought to you by the Sportsplex at Metuchen:

Junior guard Amarillis Shubick
Sophomorwe guard Adrianna Summersett
St. Thomas Aquinas sophomore guard Adrianna Summersett. (Photo: Mike Pavlichko)
Head coach Joe Whalen

Scoring with balance is the name of the game for No. 2 St. Thomas Aquinas as it looks to run the table – again – in GMC Red

The last time the St. Thomas Aquinas girls’ basketball team didn’t win or finish first in its division in the Greater Middlesex Conference (division champs weren’t recognized in the COVID-abbreviated 2021 season) was 2016-17.

That’s also the last time they lost a division game at home, a 60-52 loss to Sayreville. Since then, Bishop Ahr/Aquinas has won 42 straight divisional games, be it in the White or Red Division.

The No. 2 Trojans (15-5, 12-0 GMC Red) put that streak on the line tonight when they face a Colonia team they’ve already beaten once this year, 58-29 on January 12th.

But Colonia (11-9, 8-5) has lost some close ones, including four other divisional games by a grand total of 22 points, none by more than seven.

Tonight’s game can be heard on Central Jersey Sports Radio, with Mike Pavlichko on the pregame at 5:15 and tip-off at 5:30 pm. Click here to listen.

Still, Aquinas has what you’re looking for in a championship-caliber team: defense, and scorers – and plenty of them.

Three players are averaging in double-figures for STA, including leading scorer Jessica Cooper, a senior averaging a double-double: 12.7 points along with 10.2 rebounds per game, which also leads the team.

Then, sophomore Gianna Chuffo – their leading three-point shooter with 60 on the year, an average of three per game, scores at a 10.5 clip, while another sophomore – Leah Crosby – is averaging 10.2

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All three lead in other key statistical areas, too. Cooper is tops with 51 points from the free-throw line, Chuffo hits from downtown, and Crosby has a team-leading 48 steals.

Senior forward Nia Clemons is almost in double figures at 9.5 points per game, while junior Amarillis Shubick runs the point, and is less focused on scoring, but she gets the ball to those who can, with a team-leading 98 assists this year, almost five per game.

Oh, and did we mention freshman Jordan Barnes? She’s just scoring 4.5 a game, but has a team-leading 24 blocks.

Balance, balance and more balance will

Click below to hear Mike Pavlichko talk with St. Thomas Aquinas head coach Joe Whalen:

Battling MS, winning the GMCT, Aquinas’ Joe Whalen named CJSR Girls’ Basketball Coach of the Year

Winning a GMC Tournament Championship is not an easy feat. Some winners do, but most don’t have a clear road and path to the title.

In the case of St. Thomas Aquinas this year, there were numerous obstacles, like replacing key players, and getting new players to gel.

But for head coach Joe Whalen, the challenge was monumental, and life-changing: dealing with a multiple sclerosis diagnosis that explained so many things the 64-year-old had simply attributed to age and previous sports injuries.

He’d had knew issues years ago, and suffered concussions from his time boxing. But this was different, and it was starting to affect his coaching, even remembering simple plays, or strategies at the end of a game.

Yet, he and his team – players and assistant coaches – overcame it all, and Whalen is the 2021-22 Central Jersey Sports Radio Girls’ Basketball Coach of the Year.

Click below to listen to Mike Pavlichko talk with St. Thomas Aquinas Head Coach Joe Whalen:

THREE-PEAT! St. Thomas Aquinas girls survive wild South Brunswick comeback to win third straight GMC Tournament title

A ten point lead at the end of three quarters had ballooned to 22 early in the fourth quarter, and things were looking fairly bleak for Cinderella South Brunswick.

But the 7th-seeded Vikings were not done.

They stormed back on top-seed St. Thomas Aquinas to cut the deficit to six with under a minute left as diminutive 5′ 3″ sophomore Meher Vig hit a three, went 5 of 7 from the foul line, and hit four straight buckets on drives to the hoop for a 16-point fourth quarter that nearly gave her time the most unbelievable of wins.


Aquinas hung on to win, but it took all they had, including key free throws down the stretch by junior Jessica Cooper and freshman Leah Crosby, who would later be named the Tournament MVP.

Final score: St. Thomas Aquinas 64, South Brunswick 58, in a game that was closer than it looked, but shouldn’t have gotten that close either.

Aquinas got sloppy with the ball up by 20-plus points, and could have eaten the clock before South Brunswick made its unbelievable run. The Vikings – mainly Vig, but also freshman Alexis Lease-Springer, who had 17 points including a trey as part of her nine-point fourth quarter – made the Trojans pay, taking advantage of nearly every turnover and every possession.

Vig finished with 18 for South Brunswick, and Crosby finished a game- and career-high 23, including 4 of 7 at the charity stripe.

Aquinas (21-3) won its sixth county championship, fifth in the GMC era, and its third straight title, going back to 2019 when it was known as Bishop Ahr. (The full tournament was not played last year due to COVID-19.) It also won titles in 2001, 1994, and 1984 as Bishop Ahr.

South Brunswick dropped to 18-7 with the loss, but has a bright future as they will bring back several key players, including Vig and Lease-Springer.

Click below to hear postgame reaction from St. Thomas Aquinas’ GMC Tournament Championship:

Freshman forward and GMC Tourney MVP Leah Crosby
Head Coach Joe Whalen

Aquinas girls may be top seed, but feel like an underdog in GMCT finals

St. Thomas Aquinas is the team that has won two straight full GMC Tournament titles. The Trojans are the team that’s 20-3, with a point guard dishing out a GMC-best nearly 5 assists per game, and 111 on the season.

But head coach Joe Whalen says they might as well be an underdog.

That’s a tremendous amount of respect Whalen has for a South Brunswick team that’s the 7th seed, but has had made a run to the finals with the GMC Red Division Coach of the Year in Jeff Johnson.

They will square off tonight: St. Thomas Aquinas and South Brunswick (18-6) at Monroe High School for the GMC girls championship, in a game you can hear tonight on Central Jersey Sports Radio starting at 5:45 with the pregame before a 6:00 tip. Mike Pavlickho and Justin Sontupe will call the action. You can listen live by clicking here.

The Vikings are led by sophomore Meher Vig, who had 12 points the other night in a big upset of third-seed Colonia, which had not lost to a GMC opponent all season. Freshman Alexis Lease-Springer had 17 in a tremendous effort.

St. Thomas Aquinas is 5-5 all-time in the county finals. They have won two straight, going back to 2019 as Bishop Ahr and 2020 as St. Thomas Aquinas, the last full GMC Tournament held due to COVID 19.

Click below to hear a preview of tonight’s game with St. Thomas Aquinas head coach Joe Whalen:

Perez, Crosby guide top-seed St. Thomas Aquinas into yet another GMC Tournament Final

One offense has been more productive than the rest in the Greater Middlesex Conference.

Tonight was simply more of the same from the juggernaut.

Top-seed St. Thomas Aquinas (20-3) punched its ticket into the Greater Middlesex Conference Girls’ Basketball Tournament Final, handling 5-seed East Brunswick, 72-55, on Tuesday night at Monroe High School. The Trojans will aim for their third consecutive full GMCT title on Friday against 7-seed South Brunswick.

You can hear that game Friday against 7th-seed South Brunswick – an upset winner in the opener over Colonia – on Central Jersey Sports Radio as we broadcast the girls’ and boys’ championship doubleheader starting with the girls’ title tilt at 6 pm. Click here to listen to Mike Pavlichko call all the action.

READ MORE: Cinderella South Brunswick continues its run as Vikings knock off Colonia, head to GMC title game

Kayla Perez powered Aquinas’ stellar start, knocking down a pair of threes in the first four minutes as part of the Trojans’ 16-2 run to begin the game. The senior guard led all scorers with a season-high 27 points.

Up 24-5 after the first quarter, Aquinas sustained its up-tempo, transition-focused offense into the second half, building a lead as large as 32 points.

East Brunswick (16-8) put together its best run of the game early in the third quarter, disrupting Aquinas’ offensive flow by switching to a full-court defense reminiscent of Rutgers’ “55” pressure. The Bears put together a 19-2 run over a six-minute span in the period, cutting the deficit to as little as 15.

Yet Aquinas was able to remain comfortably in front throughout the second half thanks to second-chance buckets from forward Leah Crosby. The freshman finished with 15 points and 17 rebounds, earning her fifth double-double of the season and second of the tournament.

Click below to hear Central Jersey Sports Radio’s Dom Savino with postgame reaction from St. Thomas Aquinas’ win:

Senior guard Kayla Perez
Head coach Joe Whalen

Baker, Whalen talk No. 5 Aquinas girls’ big win over previously-unbeaten No. 3 Monroe

In what was a tie game at the half, fifth-ranked St. Thomas Aquinas pulled away just enough after intermission to come up with a 49-41 win over No. 3 Monroe, handing the Falcons’ (7-1) their first loss of the season.

Aquinas improves to 6-1 and takes sole possession of first place in the Greater Middlesex Conference Red Division. The teams aren’t scheduled to meet again in the regular season, though there has been talk of a second matchup being scheduled, and the teams will likely meet again in the GMC’s postseason “pods.”

Senior Akyia Baker scored a game-high 17 points, 13 of which came in the decisive second half.

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Click below to hear postgame comments from Baker and St. Thomas Aquinas head coach Joe Whalen:

Senior guard Akyia Baker
Head Coach Joe Whalen