SOFTBALL COACH OF THE YEAR: Jeanne Dickinson, Mater Dei

During a 16-day stretch in May, the Shore Conference found out what kind of team Mater Dei had become this season.

The Seraphs were talented but mysterious. They didn’t play with a lot of emotion. And up until May 15, they had played just two teams outside the B Central division and lost both games — to Middletown South and Raritan, which were ranked among the better teams in the Asbury Park Press Top-10 Poll all season.

So, at the time, Mater Dei simply had beaten the tar out of its divisional opponents but most people didn’t consider the team a viable contender for much beyond the B Central title, which they won by going 14-0 in the division for the first time in program history.

“I wouldn’t have expected what happened back in March,” said Mater Dei head coach Jeanne Dickinson, the Asbury Park Press Coach of the Year. “But as the season went on, my assistants and I just kept looking at each other and saying, ‘Wow!’ I never expected us to go through the division as we did. And then we put together a little bit of a streak that surprised everybody.”

On four consecutive days, the Seraphs knocked off Jackson Liberty in the Shore Conference Tournament preliminary round, Red Bank, Marlboro in a Monmouth County Tournament White Division semifinal and Freehold Township, ranked ninth in the Top-10 Poll the prior week, in the White Division final.

But that was only half the winning streak the Seraphs put together. During the next 10 days, Mater Dei won back-to-back one-run victories over Red Bank Catholic, which had been ranked as high as fourth later in April, and Wall, ranked second during the last regular-season poll, in the SCT Round of 16. Then after beating division foe St. Rose in the quarterfinals round of the NJSIAA Non-Public South B tournament, the Seraphs knocked Howell, last ranked sixth, out of the SCT in the quarterfinals.

“No matter who we were playing and what the score was, our girls just went out, played their game and never panicked,” said Dickinson, who completed her 33rd season this spring and now has a career record of 436-252-1. “They had fun. And they weren’t the most vocal group, but you could tell they really were playing for each other.”

The season ended two days later, after first losing by a run to Sacred Heart, a team which ended up in the group championship game, in the Non-Public South B semifinals, and then Toms River East in the Seraphs’ first-ever trip to the SCT semifinals.

“Our motto kind of was, ‘We’re doing it with smoke and mirrors.’ These girls were surprising, talented without knowing it,” Dickinson said. “The image other teams had of us was, ‘How did they get here? How did they get this far?Why can’t teams beat them?’ But our girls never believed that. They just played.”

Mater Dei finished 24-4 and Dickinson referred to the season as “magical.”

“This one definitely ranks up there in the top-three seasons I’ve coached,” she said. “This is right up there with our state-championship season of 2008 and my first season in 1981, when we made it to the state final and lost in nine innings. I still enjoy what I’m doing and this team brought back a lot of the fun.”

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