NORWOOD, N.J. — Norwood Middle School Girls Basketball Coach Matt Marabito inherited a team that didn't offer much optimism.
Winless the entire 2011 season, Marabito of Park Ridge took over in 2012 with ample room for growth.
Fast forward four years and his team is now a champion.
Following the program's 43-28 win over Harrington Park on Wed. Feb. 10, Norwood captured its first championship in almost a decade after falling short in the title game each of the last three seasons.
The title itself in comparison to the culture change and girls' perception around the program.
"I wanted to break every stereotype about girls basketball there was," said Marabito, a Tenafly High School history teacher. "It wasn't about being a girl or being a boy — it's about being a really great basketball player."
It was about changing the mentality of the program, an attitude that carried onto the court.
Norwood pressed its opponents from the opening tip. Players also took off after every defensive rebound looking for quick, fast-break buckets.
It all paid dividends, the coach said.
"They were doing things you just don't do," Marabito said. "It was really clean basketball but really aggressive."
With Norwood nursing a 10-point lead in the third quarter of the championship game, Marabito urged his players to keep the intensity and pressure up. He wanted no letdown.
"I told the girls that they had to close out," Marabito said. "They had to put their hands in the other players' faces and find ways to get out there. We couldn't let them get comfortable in offense."
Marabito, 31, hasn't forgotten about the "heartbreaking loss" in the finals when he donned the Norwood uniform when he was in eighth grade. Wednesday's victory was even more personal for him because of it.
"Truthfully, this is something I've been working incredibly hard for, for a very long time," Marabito said. "But to bring home a championship for Norwood is certainly something that goes well beyond basketball.
"It's an accomplishment to what they've accomplished and a philosophy that they've embraced," he said.
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