By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
There are a lot of high school coaches out there in various sports throughout South Jersey who have reached 100 wins. If you’re a good coach and work at a school that has a solid athletic program that includes youth feeder programs, you can reasonably expect to reach 100 wins in about 10 years or so, depending on the sport and how many games or matches are played each season. Some coaches even reach that number in five years or less.
Still, it’s a nice accomplishment for any coach to reach the century mark in wins. It means you’re doing something right.
Reaching that milestone earlier this month was even more meaningful for Absegami High School field hockey coach Denise Murray, particularly because of the month in which she did it. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and Murray is a breast cancer survivor. She’s lucky to even be alive right now, which is why hitting that milestone of 100 wins meant more to her than perhaps any other coach.
“This was definitely one of my coaching milestones and it meant a lot to me to do it with this group of girls,” said Murray, who notched 49 wins during her five years at Lower Cape May and now has 51 in seven years with the Braves. “All my seniors have been with me all four years, so to get your 100th win with a team that has gone through your program and believes in your philosophy is really important.”
The milestone win came Oct. 14 against Oakcrest, and in typical Absegami fashion. The scrappy Braves shook off a slow start and continued to grind — like their coach did four years ago through chemotherapy sessions — and eventually came out on top, winning 4-1 because they relied on each other to push through when the Falcons kept denying them on goal-scoring opportunities.
“It was a very frustrating game. I don’t think we played that well the first three quarter — we had chemistry issues and just couldn’t gain any momentum,” said Murray, who is now four years cancer free and has a 1-year-old daughter. “But we made some adjustments in the fourth quarter to generate some offense — I took a risk and pulled some of my defenders and put them in more offensive positions. Thankfully, the risk paid off and we were able to put some goals in to secure the win.”
“It was great. We thought we’d get it for her last year, but this is great with my other senior girls being able to get it for her. I’m sure she’s very excited,” senior Brooke Felix said. “She’s a really good mentor to me and I look up to her a lot. We have a really close relationship and we all appreciate her. She helps us with math — she’s a great math teacher — and she’s a great coach on the field. She keeps a positive attitude and has been a really good coach for us.”
Following the win, Murray celebrated with her mom and dad, who have been through her side throughout her recovery from cancer and are her biggest fans.
“Coaching and being a mom — thankfully I have both my parents here to help me. They both watch my daughter, and my dad is here with me at practices on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Without them I would not be able to still be coaching. The support and the village that supports you as a mom and a coach and helps you do everything, that’s important,” Murray said. “Everything so far has been good with my check-ups. I had to be almost completely clear to have the option of getting pregnant. I was on hormone therapy, so I had to get off that to be able to get pregnant. It’s been about four years now since I finished up radiation, and we’ve been able to get on with the next chapter of our lives.”