By Josh Perry, Managing Editor
NORTH EASTON, Mass. – She had tried so hard to hide the milestone, trying to keep it secret from her team, so that the players would not be worried about her looming record and could focus on continuing a league-leading start to the season.
Clearly, her attempts to hide it had failed, as signs adorned with ”634” started to filter through the Oliver Ames crowd like contraband, during the final minutes of Tuesday night’s 40-27 victory over King Philip. The printed signs, joined the multitude of homemade posters and even a giant photo.
As the clock ticked down and the win was assured, the crowd rose to its feet, roaring for the now winningest coach in Massachusetts girls’ basketball history. When the buzzer sounded, the intense scowl slowly disappeared and Laney Clement-Holbrook finally allowed herself to smile.
With Tuesday’s win, No. 634 in a career that stretches back 40 years (all with the Tigers), Clement-Holbrook eclipsed the previous career record held by another Bridgewater State alum, Vi Goodnow, who won 633 games in 40-plus seasons at Frontier Regional.
“It’s incomprehensible to me currently,” said Clement-Holbrook after the official on-court festivities had ended and she had a moment to speak with her team in the locker room.
She explained that while she knew Goodnow as a BSU graduate, she was unaware of the record or how close she was to it. She only discovered it after searching MassHoops.com to see if the site had put former star player Lauren Battista in its Hall of Fame.
“I was totally clueless,” she said. “I had no idea. If I hadn’t been snooping to make sure that LB got her just desserts, I would not even have known about it.”
In the past two weeks, as the record neared, news broke and the countdown began for staff, administration, and for players, which was something that Clement-Holbrook tried not to burden her team with.
“It wasn’t fair to them to be concerned about me because that’s the lesson you try to teach kids about a team – it’s not about any one individual,” she remarked. “It’s not about me; it’s a celebration of all of them. I’m just lucky, I landed in the right spot.”
Senior captain Samantha Bamford admitted that there was some pressure on the players entering Tuesday, especially with a packed house of alumni, including former players from all four decades of Clement-Holbrook’s career.
“We were a little shook up in the beginning because we had a lot going on in this game,” said Bamford. “There were a lot of tweets and stuff and then we found out the game before, but we tried not to focus on it.”
“We just couldn’t be more happy for her.”
Over the course of 40 years spent in one program and in one league, Clement-Holbrook has become a living legend but as Mansfield coach Mike Redding said, “You measure yourself against her teams. OA has been the consistent measure of whether or not you’re doing well as a program in the Hockomock and in Eastern Mass.”
Congratulations to Laney Clement Holbrook on her amazing accomplishment. Amazing coach and a class act.
— Medfield GirlsHoop (@mnick40) January 27, 2016
Redding has coached against Clement-Holbrook for more than a decade and in fact has coached against her longer than any other coach in the league. He also married one of Clement-Holbrook’s former players and he joked that when the Hornets face OA he is unsure for which team his wife is cheering.
“She’s such a class act on and off the court,” Redding said of Clement-Holbrook. “It’s more about the people than the Xs and Os.”
Last year, Redding hit a milestone of his own when he recorded his 200th career win, but he could only laugh when asked to put that in context with 634. He said, “Six hundred and thirty-four is beyond my imagination.”
On Friday, OA will travel to Stoughton and face first-year head coach Charmaine Steele Jordan, who is looking forward to her first battle of wits on the sidelines with Clement-Holbrook after playing against the Tigers for four years as one of the Black Knights’ all-time leading scorers.
“I’m excited to experience that again because for me as a player it was the one game on the schedule that I was really amped up for,” said Steele Jordan.
“The kids have great fundamentals, they respond, they can be coached and I think she does a great job putting effort into Easton basketball. Kids want to go there; they want to play there… Her fieriness and her passion for the game…I think her players really feed off that.”
Do not ask Clement-Holbrook to tell you about the first game that she won. She does not remember. She cannot remember the opponent, the score, or how the game went, simply that the Tigers came out on top.
Congrats to Laney Clement-Holbrook from Oliver Ames on becoming the winningest coach in MA history. Such a great coach and person.
— Braintree GirlsBball (@BHSWampsBball) January 27, 2016
She remembers the players though and many of them have stayed in touch for the past 40 years. One word keeps coming up when talking about the program and what has made the Tigers successful for so many years – family.
“She’s a mentor to all of us,” said senior captain Kailtyn McCarthy. “She puts her life into this program and we’re her family. She just loves us so much and it’s nice because we look up to her and she’s been there for us no matter what.”
In the preseason, Bamford was struggling as her father was hospitalized after an accident in his home (she said he is doing much better now) and Clement-Holbrook was there visiting the family in the hospital and allowing Bamford to miss practices to be with her family.
“She gets to know you really personally,” said Bamford. “ She’s just an amazing person and she tries to reach out and help everyone and she understands if something is going on in your life…I couldn’t be more thankful for that.”
“I’ve been getting text messages all day long from kids that played for me in all the decades,” Clement-Holbrook remarked. “They’re like my family. From my perspective, I love them like they’re my own kids,” and then she smiled and added, “The only good thing is I didn’t have to take them home.”
When asked if some of the pressure was off now that the milestone had been reached, she quipped, “It’s a big deal. I’m going to be able to sleep now because I’m looking…a little ragged around the edges.”
When anyone thinks of Oliver Ames basketball, the two state championships, the eight 1,000-point scorers, the numerous league titles, there is always one name associated with thoseachievements, as much as she may hope to pass the attention on to others.
“It wouldn’t be the right thing to focus on that because that’s not we’re about here,” she said. “You walk into that gym and you see the banners on the wall and you know there’s a lot of pride and tradition here and it’s really important to all of us.”
“It’s not about me; it’s a celebration of all of them. I’m just lucky, I landed in the right spot.”
Oliver Ames basketball can count itself lucky too.
Laney Clement-Holbrook made her way down the hallway and back out onto the court to greet the dozens of alumni, friends, family, youth players, school staff, and former classmates who all waited for one more chance to say congratulations to a legend.
Josh Perry can be contacted at JoshPerry@hockomocksports.com and followed on Twitter at @Josh_Perry10.