Bill Cleary, athletic director and coach of the women's basketball team at Serra Catholic High School, celebrates his 600th win along with members of the team. (Photo courtesy Serra Catholic High School, via Twitter)
Bill Cleary gets a gentle reminder when former players return that he isn’t the firebrand he used to be. Coaching the Serra Catholic girls basketball program for 31 years, Cleary has led many generations of Eagles.
Each has different memories of Cleary’s style.
“I have changed,” said Cleary, who will coach the Eagles tonight in the WPIAL Class 2A quarterfinals against Greensburg Central Catholic. “Some of the players from years gone by who come back say I’ve changed. I’ve softened. Age has done that and experience has made me more understanding in a lot of situations.”
Whatever the strategy, Cleary has found many ways to help Serra win through the decades. Cleary, who has a 605-182 career record, collected his 600th career win during a 60-13 victory over Mapletown Jan. 19 at home.
During his career, Cleary's teams have never had a losing season and only missed the playoffs once, after finishing 12-10 during the 2016-17 season.
Winning with this current group is something Cleary is especially proud of. Serra (15-7) tied the Centurions for the Section 3-2A crown despite not having a lot of preseason hype.
In the first round of the playoffs, Gigi Mele-Madigan made a half-court shot at the buzzer to help the Eagles score a 53-52 victory over Riverview Feb. 16.
“They play hard and they play well together,” Cleary said. “We don’t have a superstar on our team. Five girls that hit the floor and do the best we can. We have depth as well, we can go the bench easily. A different five players can win us games.”
Win or lose against Greensburg Central Catholic, Serra will likely be headed to the PIAA playoffs. The top seven teams advance to states, with a follower-the-leader format if the Eagles were to lose to the Centurions.
Cleary, who also serves as Serra’s athletic director, plans to enjoy the ride. He’s guided the Eagles to four WPIAL titles and one state championship during his tenure.
It takes some of the pressure off.
Cleary can enjoy the personality of every team.
“The thing is in terms of accomplishments, the thing I get a thrill out of now is watching teams and kids develop,” Cleary said. “I haven’t put a timeframe on when I want to stop. I just enjoy watching teams develop. This year being one of them. I’m not sure how much we were expected to do and to still be alive in the playoffs is an accomplishment.”
Josh Rizzo is a freelance writer from Verona who writes about Mon-Yough sports for Tube City Almanac.
Originally published February 22, 2018.