After serving 21 seasons as an assistant to longtime coach Dave Troiano, Teresa Cunniff has now reached a summit in local high school girls basketball.
On Wednesday evening, Cunniff, a 1991 alumna, was named the head coach of the Wildwood High School girls team. Cunniff replaces Troiano, the legendary coach who manned the sidelines for 39 years at the tiny school at the shore.
“I’m very excited to take on the job and, hopefully, good things will come out of it,” Cunniff said in a phone interview. “We want to be fundamentally sound and a very good defensive team. We’re going to spend a lot of time working on those aspects of our game.”
Cunniff played point guard for Troiano’s first state championship team in 1991, her senior season. He was elated with the news on Wednesday.
“There’s no one else besides Teresa that I’d rather hand the program over to,” Troiano said by phone. “She was a spark plug when she played for me, and I believe she’ll have an amazing impact on the sideline.”
Cunniff is taking over a Warriors team that went 24-5 last season and won the South Jersey Group I title in Troiano’s final season.
The Wildwood girls became one of the most high-profile high school teams in the state from 2000-2002, when the Warriors won three straight state titles. With an enrollment of around 300 students, Wildwood is one of the state’s smallest public high schools. But the Warriors continue to punch above their weight.
Cunniff will continue as the school’s softball head coach. She will be joined by assistants Rich Hans and Jim Clarke for the basketball job. Cunniff is committed to continuing the Wildwood girls basketball tradition of winning.
“Every time we step out on that court, the other team is going to be in for a battle,” she said. “We may not always win, but they’ll know they were in a fight.”
And what happens when she coaches her first home game?
“I’ll definitely be nervous,” she said. “But in a good way. We have a lot of good players coming back. We just have to keep everything moving forward.”
Troiano, 70, retired with 682 wins and four state championships and nine South Jersey titles. He has no doubts that the school named a worthy successor.
“Teresa will be excellent,” he said. “She’s a competitor. She hates to lose. Any time you have that quality in a coach, it’s going to rub off on the players.”