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The 2005-2006 team won program's first state title

Camden Catholic first state champion girls' basketball team set to enter Hall of Fame

04/15/2018, 4:30pm EDT
By Kevin Callahan

The 2005-2006 Irish set the standard for the elite program

The Camden Catholic girls’ 2005-2006 state championship basketball team highlights a stellar Hall of Fame class for the Irish.

The program’s first state title team will be inducted in the athletic wing on Saturday night with Lou Holder, the boys’ soccer team’s all-time leading scorer, Frank Cornely, a state finalist wrester, Will Walker, a first-team All-South Jersey football and basketball selection, and Ann Czerniakowski Rychilk, an All-South Jersey swimmer, during a ceremony at the school.

 Before this honor, the Irish - with a starting five of Rashidat Junaid, Jasmine Crew, Christine Matera, Katie Gallagher and Allison Lane - rose to national prominence with a No. 22 ranking by USA Today.

 “This is truly an honor to be inducted, so many strong teams that are in the Hall of Fame,” coach Chris Palladino said. “However, this team was special in so many ways.”

The Irish were special, especially in March when they doubled-upped the competition in South Jersey Non-Public A games over Monsignor Donovan (83-42) and Holy Spirit (70-30).

“Although we had some standout wins, including a come from behind victory over Bloomfield Tech at the MLK Day tournament at Cherry Hill East, a South Jersey No. 1 vs. No. 2 battle against Absegami, or Mrs. Pal’s 400th win at home versus our bitter rival Woodrow Wilson, I would have to say my fondest memory was beating Holy Spirit in the South Jersey Finals,” Matera said. “The game was touted as one to watch, and the papers even predicted that Holy Spirit would hand us our first loss of the season in an upset.

“Needless to say, we ended up handling the challenge.”

The dominance extended into the state final when the Irish lapped Immaculate Heart 66-36. The season ended with a loss in the Tournament of Champions semifinals against powerful Bloomfield Tech 61-54.

Junaid set two Tournament of Champions single-game records with 24 rebounds and nine blocks. The two-time first team Associated Press All-State selection collected 2,085 points, which is ranked first all-time in school history, and 1,219 rebounds, which is first all-time for girls in her unparalleled CCHS career.

Crew and Matera also topped 1,000 points in their incredible careers for the Irish.

“I had wonderful classmates and tremendous teachers who challenged me in the classroom, but what we accomplished that year together will remain at the pinnacle of my memories of Camden Catholic,” said Matera, who finished with 1,402 points to rank fourth all-time. “To follow through on our goal of getting Mrs. Pal her first State Championship is the high school accomplishment I’m most proud of.”

The collegiate athletic careers of the starting five proved the Irish transferred what they learned from coach Palladino to the next level.

Junaid played in Rutgers first NCAA championship game in 2007 among her 130 career games, which is ranked third in the program’s history. She also finished sixth all-time in blocked shots (136).

Crew starred at Seton Hall where she was named All-Big East second team in 2012, finished first all-time for single-season free throws made and is ranked fourth all-time in single-season free throw percentage.

Matera was one of only seven women elected two-time captain in Harvard hoops history while helping the Crimson win the Ivy League title in 2008.

Gallagher went on to star on the Maryland lacrosse team, winning the 2010 NCAA championship as well as three Atlantic Coast Conference crowns. She received ACC all-tournament Team and conference honors in 2011.        

Lane and reserve Bridget Mahon both played soccer in college, at Jackson State and George Washington respectively.

Matera, who is ranked third all-time in career and fourth all-time in single season three pointers at Harvard, is now an assistant coach with the Irish.

“As reluctant as I am to talk about it, the current players often inquire about my playing days at Camden Catholic,” Matera said. “It’s an inevitability when the current team sees our picture in the Emerald Cafe or our season record hung above the locker room entrance. They ask about individual and team accolades, particularly from those who were on the state championship team, but the biggest thing I try to stress to them is how unselfish my teammates were.

“Our team was talented and deep enough that our second five could have started for almost any other team in South Jersey, but individuals were willing to make sacrifices for the greater good of the team. From the seniors all the way down, everyone bought into what we were trying to accomplish as a team, and it paid dividends. I try to encourage our current players to emulate that same mindset.”

“I often reference that team, realistically they set the standard for the program,” Palladino said. “I speak about the key ingredients that the team had to make them special and winners.”

Holder knows what the feeling is to be inducted into a Hall of Fame as a team member as well.

Already a member of the Rutgers University Athletic Hall of Fame after helping the Scarlet Knights to a pair of Final Four visits in four years as a varsity soccer player, Holder now joins the Irish Hall of Fame as an individual as the first boys’ soccer player to be enshrined.

“I feel blessed to be in my college and high school Hall of Fames,” Holder said. “I’m just real happy to take my place in there as part of the school history.”

Holder is the all-time leading scorer at Camden Catholic with 72 goals.

“It means a great deal to me,” Holder said about the latest Hall of Fame honor. “When I entered Camden Catholic in 1983, I never thought I’d make such an impact on the school and soccer program.

“It really means a lot to me, it was a special time in my life.”

Holder, who lives in Maryland, is continuing to soar as a long-time accomplished sportscaster with NBC SportsNet Washington. He also teaches mass communications and broadcast journalism at a couple area colleges.

His professional peers also recognized his brilliance as he won an Emmy Award in 2004 for News Segment Feature. So he seamlessly went from playing and starring in games to reporting on games and star players.

Still, even with interviews of top professional athletes to his credit, he still recalls his own playing days at Camden Catholic in the mid-1980’s as special.

“My first scholastic goal,” he said quickly when asked about his memorable Irish moments, “it was in my very first game, I started as a freshman, I was just so happy.”

Holder rattled off a number of other memories as if he was still wearing the green and white with the shamrock on his chest.

“We had a historic win against Pennsauken, who we hadn’t beaten in eons, and I scored two goals and we beat them 3-2,” Holder added about his junior year triumph. “It was pandemonium at school the next day.”

Holder continued counting other memorable games as “classic battles against Eastern and Bishop Eustace and Paul VI.”

Holder, a grad in 1987 from Camden Catholic, graduated from Rutgers University in1991 with a Bachelor of Arts in Communications/Sociology. In 1998, he earned a Master of Education, Sport & Recreation Administration from Temple.

He is a member of the Rutgers Athletics Hall of Fame as a player on the 1990 team, which advanced to the national championship game and beat three No. 1 ranked teams. That season with the Scarlet Knights, Holder was a teammate of Olympian Alexi Lalas.

Holder, who was born in Washington, grew up in Cherry Hill, also played basketball for four years.

 “Basketball was just as fun as soccer,” Holder said.

Cornely’s father, Joe, wrestled for the Irish and so did his uncles, Tommy, Mike, Frank and Ed. His mother, Patty, also graduated from Camden Catholic, and she had many Schmidt family members who wrestled for the Irish, too.

“I am extremely honored,” he said about being inducted into the Camden Catholic Athletic Hall of Fame. “CCHS has had such a rich tradition of wrestling, going back as far as when my father wrestled there; he is a member of the 1974 undefeated team, which is also in the Hall of Fame,

 “It is humbling, to say the least, to be a part of such an elite group.”

Cornely certainly earned the distinction, as he was a state

runner-up for the Irish in 2000 after winning both the region and district titles as a senior.

And although Cornely came from a wrestling family, he had to earn every takedown and pin in his storied career.

“The path down to the wrestling room to the "House of Pain" and the tradition of hitting the shamrock that is displayed on the wall just before entering the room has always been a chilling experience,” Cornely said when asked what remembers most about wrestling for coach Gary Papa.

Cornely’s admirable and exhaustive work ethic carried him to the top of the collegiate wrestling world as well.

At Duke University he was named the program’s first All-American in 2005. He was a two-time Atlantic Coast Conference champion in 2004 and 2005 (only eight Duke wrestlers have won consecutive titles in the Blue Devils 80-

Plus-year history.

Cornely graduated from Duke as a two-time NCAA qualifier in 2004 and 2005 and ranked third in all-time career wins with 100.

His splendid career extended past Duke as well.

“I was competing free style for the New York Athletic Club,” said Cornely, who competed internationally in six different countries, from his home in North Carolina. “I spent three semesters training with Olympic national team at Colorado Springs.

“I wrestled in the U.S. Open and considered trying to make the U.S. team … I elected to go get a job.”

Cornely, who is currently the vice president of credit sales for Fixed Income Capital Markets at US Bank, helped raise $500,000 for the Duke wrestling team recently.

 “I’m still very close with the coach, I’m a big part of that program, in addition to Camden Catholic,” he said.

Like members of the 2006-2006 basketball team as well as Holder and Cornely, both Walker (1991 CCHS graduate) and Czerniakowski Rychlik (1994) excelled in college as well. Walker was a wide receiver at Syracuse when Donovan McNabb was the quarterback and Czerniakowski Rychlik earned All-Big East Academic honors at Connecticut.

Tickets are $50/person advance and $60/person at the door. Purchase online at www.camdencatholic.org/halloffame, call 856-663-2247 ext. 147 or email christine.matera@camdencatholic.org.

Speaking of tickets, before the 2005-2006 season, Coach Palladino was in her classroom when her team came walking in and handed their surprised coach a present.

“They gave me a ticket,” Palladino recalled, “and said it was my ticket to the state championship because we were going.”

Now they are going into the Hall-of-Fame together.

Zyra Thomas, a six-time state champion, won another gold at the Woodbury Relays Saturday.
J'wan Steward
Lou Russo played football at Cherokee High School and La Salle University
Donte Jamison (left) with Braheem Whitfield primed to carry the golden baton
Jim Crawford was surrounded by former players and coaches at Coaches vs. Cancer Legends Dinner
Tim Delaney with his mother Jeanine and his girl friend Julie after the Wildcats championship win in San Antonio
Jim Crawford with former players in December at Irish Alumni Game
Tim Delaney with Villanova teammates in San Antonio as Wildcats shoot for second national title in three years. (Photo credit: Jay Wright on Twitter)
Kara Heck is the only player from New Jersey on the national U-17 team

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