Girls' coach of the year: Melissa Hearlihy of Harvard-Westlake

Just before the basketball season began, Harvard-Westlake coach Melissa Hearlihy learned her team’s top returning player, Bella Spencer, suffered a torn knee ligament. Other injuries would follow. A 2-7 start left the Wolverines reeling. They were 4-13 at one point.

All the experiences, ups and downs, from a coaching career that began in 1985 gave Hearlihy the wisdom to preach patience.

“When we weren’t winning, she kept us motivated,” freshman guard Angelina Habis said.

Players got healthy. Young players stepped up. And Hearlihy did a masterful job turning things around. Harvard-Westlake finally reached above .500 (19-18) in its final game, winning a state Division II championship over Colfax in Sacramento, her 839th career coaching victory.

For that, Hearlihy has been selected The Times’ girls’ basketball coach of the year.

“Weathered the storm in league. Held her team together. Amazing job,” Sierra Canyon coach Alicia Komaki said.

Junior Deana Thompson, sophomore Valentina Guerrero and freshman Habis all came through at Golden 1 Center for a 60-45 victory and the state crown.

It showed again it’s not how you start but how you develop over the course of a season and finish.

Said Hearlihy: “It was a heck of a journey and we’ll talk about this for a long time.”

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