In 14 seasons as the coach of the Watchung Hills High School girls basketball team, Sandy Whelan took a program with no notable history and spun it into a consistent winner, with two trips to NJSIAA sectional finals and one to the Somerset County Tournament final along the way. Now she will try to duplicate her own blueprint.
Whelan has been hired as the girls basketball coach at Bernards, where she likely will coach her daughters — Sara, a sophomore, and Jenna, an eighth-grader, and many fellow Bernardsville residents.
“It’s the best decision for me and my family,” said Whelan, who teaches business at Watchung Hills. “It’s difficult to be a working mom and coach and be able to catch the games of all your children. I’m fortunate in that this position opened up and I’m looking forward to hopefully doing the same thing I was able to do at Watchung.”
Watchung Hills, which has a .612 winning percentage over the last eight seasons, improved in each of its first three seasons under Whelan but really took off in 2006.
Since its last winning season in 2007, Bernards has a .299 winning percentage, though it made progress by finishing 7-16 last season.
“I heard every day, ‘Why would you ever want to coach at Watchung Hills?’ ” Whelan said of her place 14 years ago. “Someone told me I was taking over the worst basketball program in the history of the state and I said, ‘Then we only have one place to go and that is up.’ There is a lot of potential over at Bernards right now.”
Whelan succeeds Joe Milde, who retired at season’s end, while the post at Watchung Hills remains vacant.
“I couldn’t be more invested in the success of the program and the school,” Whelan said. “There is a Bernards side (to me) and to have the opportunity to be a part of that is, I think, going to very special.”