by Tom Utescher
Normally, when the first-place team in a basketball league defeats the last-place squad, there’s not a lot of excitement surrounding the contest.
Germantown Academy’s 70-26 win over host Agnes Irwin last Tuesday was an exception, because it was the 700th career victory for Patriots head coach Sherri Retif. The victory also allowed GA to clinch at least a tie for the 2019 Inter-Ac League championship. Although she routinely seeks out strong opponents from outside the league, her winning percentage is just under 80 percent for her career.
With 19 league titles, Retif has won more Inter-Ac championships than any other girls’ or boys’ basketball coach in league history. Since arriving at GA in the 1999-99 academic year, she has turned out a long line of distinguished players who went on to NCAA Division I competition.
“I’m so happy for her, she really deserves it,” said the lone senior on the GA team this year, George Mason University signee Rachel Balzer. “She’s a great mentor on and off the court, and I’m honored to have played for her. With my academics, and with some problems I’ve had with injuries, she’s always been there for me and had my back.”
The Patriots’ coach was actually home sick the day of the Agnes Irwin game last week, but she returned the following day for a 60-39 win over visiting Lawrenceville School. After that home court win, she reflected on the career milestone reached a day earlier.
She said, “There’s just a sense of gratitude, and it gets me thinking about the long list of great players who were a part of that number; Laura Kurz (Duke/Villanova), Joey Rhodes (Penn), Caroline Doty (Connecticut), Colleen Magarity (three-time NCAA lacrosse champion at Northwestern), Maggie Lucas (Penn State and the WNBA), Jesse Carey (Villanova).
“I also think of the people who coached with me along the way,” she went on. “There are extraordinary coaches that I get to sit with on the bench.”
Beginning her coaching career at Ursuline Academy in her native New Orleans and at Sun Valley High School in Aston, Pa., Retif already had a record of 228-71 when she arrived at Germantown Academy.
She celebrated her next victory centennial in 2001, chalking up number 300 against Archbishop Wood High School. Her 600th came at the expense of Baldwin School in January of 2015, as senior guard Olivia Gorman scored her 1000th career point in the same game.
In between, she coached in the McDonald’s All-America Game, had three teams finish the season in the top 20 in national polls (placing eighth two times), and presided over a 111-game unbeaten streak in Inter-Ac League competition. In 2013 she was inducted into the Montgomery County Coaches Hall of Fame.
“I’ve seen women’s basketball raise its level overall,” she remarked. “There’s a lot more parity, and a lot of very good players at a lot of different schools. In the past, we’d see some of our best competition against teams from outside the state, but nowadays there’s a lot more talent in-state and a lot of talented players just in the Inter-Ac.”
There’s plenty of basketball ability represented on the Patriots’ own 2018-19 roster, although two current NCAA Division I players graduated from GA last spring.
“When we started this season, if someone told me that we’d be 25-1 at this point, I’d have taken it in a heartbeat,” Retif related. “It’s a testament to who these girls are, and the way they create trust through their respect for each other and their eagerness to celebrate each other’s successes. They celebrated for me yesterday and I wasn’t even there. It’s a special group of girls with great chemistry.”
Back in her second year coaching at Germantown Academy, Retif also joined the faculty, and she’s been a physical education teacher at the school ever since.
“I’m grateful that the administration gave me the opportunity to be here and share my passion with these kids,” she said. “I think Germantown Academy, as an institution, attracts highly-motivated kids, and the faculty prepares them to go on to the colleges and the careers of their dreams. I just get to complement that when a student wants to play basketball.”
With two more victories in the three days following Retif’s 700th on Tuesday, the Patriots ended the week with a season record of 26-1.