OVER THE HILL — Jody wins 400th game as KHS coach

Throughout her now 28 years as the girls basketball head coach at Kearny, Jody Hill has always found the impact she has had on dozens of young women to be more rewarding than any win total or accomplishment.

On Thursday afternoon, unbeknownst to Hill, she reached rarified air in coaching with her 400th career win with the Kardinals’ 61-21 victory over St. Dominic Academy. But more meaningful than the milestone was the opportunity to share it with her family, friends and several former players who were on hand.

“That’s the most rewarding part of coaching to me. The little messages you get from some of the players you coached just thanking you for the impact you had on their lives and getting positive responses about how you helped guide them or mold them or actually change the direction of where they were going,” said Hill. “That’s my favorite part of doing what I do.”

Hill becomes just the sixth girls basketball coach in Hudson County to win 400 games, a list that includes her high school coach, Jack Rodgers of Harrison. Hill joins Bill DeFazio (576 wins at St. Anthony and Marist), Bayonne’s Jeff Stabile (570), Pat Longo of Holy Family (568), Rodgers (535) and North Bergen’s Dan Reardon (452) in the exclusive club.

There are believed to be less than 60 girls basketball coaches statewide to have won 400 games

“I had so many talented players I had the opportunity to coach, this 400th win goes to them. All of them,” Hill said. “I wouldn’t be here without them. Some of them helped really mold the program to become successful and have a winning tradition year after year. It’s all a credit to the athletes of Kearny that have dedicated and chosen to believe in me and gave me the opportunity to coach them.”

Under Hill’s watch, the Kardinals have become a consistent winner, finishing .500 or better in 13 consecutive seasons and 17 out of the last 18.

Last season was perhaps the most successful of her entire tenure at Kearny as the Kardinals went 22-7, tying a school record for victories, and they reached the Hudson County Tournament semifinals for the first time Kearny, which also reached the North Jersey, Section 1, Group 4 semifinals, had three seniors (Maci Covello, Ava Hyams and Natalie Osorio) commit to play basketball in college.

Hill herself is one of the greatest girls basketball players to ever come out of Hudson County, scoring 2,098 career points. As a senior, Hill was named All-State, First Team by The Star-Ledger after averaging 26.6 points, 9.4 assists and 4.3 steals per game and leading the Blue Tid to a North Jersey, Section 1, Group 2 championship.

Hill then went on to play at Pace University where she became the program’s career assist leader.

After serving as a graduate assistant for one season at Pace, Rodgers helped set Hill up to interview for the head coaching job at Kearny with then athletic director Jim Cifelli.

By Hill’s third season, the soccer-centric school had become a consistent state tournament qualifier despite playing in a loaded Watchung Conference that featured some of the best teams in the state.

Despite the success, Hill has never looked to move on to a bigger basketball school, electing to stay at the place that gave her a chance to be a head coach at the age of 23.

“Once I started at Kearny, my heart just stayed in Kearny and I couldn’t imagine myself anywhere else,” said Hill. I’m a teacher here. The kids of Kearny have been amazing and a pleasure to coach.

“As the relationships have grown and then you start seeing sisters of players coming through the program and it’s just an ongoing thing where I couldn’t imagine coaching somewhere else and possibly having to go against Kearny because it is my second home.

“There’s just no reason to ever leave. I just felt home.”

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Jason Bernstein | Observer Sports Writer

Jason Bernstein joined The Observer as its sports writer in March 2022, following the retirement of Jim Hague. He has a wealth of sports-writing experience, including for NJ Advance Media (nj.com, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)