WHS hoops coaches take programs to new heights

The Wilton High girls basketball team reached the pinnacle this season by winning a state championship for the first time in school history, and the Wilton High boys basketball team has qualified for state tournament play for four consecutive years.

But the wheels to get those programs where they are now were put in motion several years ago, when new head coaches were hired.

Jaclyn Woitkowski Porco became head coach of the Wilton girls team seven years ago, and Joel Geriak was named head coach of the Wilton boys team four years ago. Since those hires, both teams have taken steps in the right direction each season and become forces in the conference and the state.

For years, getting the eight wins necessary to qualify for the state tournament was the basic and primary goal of both programs — and a feat that garnered fanfare when realized. Now, under Woitkowski Porco and Geriak, state tourney qualification is expected. Making the eight-team FCIAC playoffs was a tougher goal, but over the last several years that has been the norm for both teams.

Woitkowski Porco was a three-sport athlete (soccer, basketball, softball) at Pittsfield High School in Massachusetts, playing at the varsity level all four years in the three sports. She was named a captain in all three sports during her senior year. Also in her senior year, she was named All-State and McDonald’s and Wendy's Athlete of the Year in Softball.

Woitkowski Porco went on to play NCAA Division I softball at Boston College, and later played Division II basketball while getting her masters degree at the College of Saint Rose. She has been a Wilton High School counselor for nine years, and also runs her own business in college consulting, guiding students and parents through the college selection and application process.

At this year's season-ending team banquet, Woitkowski Porco said that coaching and winning a state title were among the goals she put on her wish-list when she was a sophomore in high school.

“As a coach, I enjoy seeing a player gain confidence, become a leader and have that moment(s) of success that is directly related to our hard work,” she said. “My goal as a coach is to have each girl leave as a strong young lady who believes in herself. I work hard to make sure each player feels the benefits of being part of this program. I hope those benefits enrich their opportunity post-high school and lead to success that brings them much happiness.

“I hope the lessons I have taught make navigating the adult world a little easier. I hope they can look back five, 10, 15 years from now and say they are a better person. Why is this so important to me? Because I have been gifted exactly that. Every coach I have had instilled qualities that have afforded me so much opportunity and success. I can look back at the coaches I had and pick out what each has given me and how it has improved who I am today. I can say that I am very lucky to have had each of them in my life.”

At the Wilton boys banquet, senior Richie Williams wanted to thank a person he didn't know: The person who didn't hire Geriak as the head coach of New Canaan's boys basketball team.

Geriak had been the junior varsity and assistant varsity coach at New Canaan for 11 years before coming to Wilton as an assistant and then becoming head coach in his second year with the Warriors.

Geriak played basketball for four years at Westhill High School in Stamford. He was a starter his junior and senior years and was named captain in his senior year. He went on to play at Elmira College (Division III) and Concordia College (Division II), and was in the starting line-up the last three years.

Since the arrival of Geriak, a supervisor aide in the New Canaan public school system, Wilton has made four consecutive state post-season appearances for only the second time in program history and three straight FCIAC playoff appearances, reaching the semifinals twice, for the first time in school history.

Geriak puts in countless time and effort with his team. Most nights in the competitive FCIAC, his team is not the biggest or quickest, but he get the most out of his players. And with the players seeing his passion for the game they push themselves not to let their coach down.

“I enjoy coaching because I get to turn young boys into successful men,” said Geriak. “I get to see them learn the ups and downs of life through the game I love. I really enjoy being a mentor to every player I get the honor to coach.”

Both head coaches are fortunate to have assistants who are just as committed to the program as they are. On the girls side there are Rob Coloney and Ken Segers. Coloney is the junior varsity coach and Segers is the freshman coach. For the boys there are Brandon Tegano (junior varsity coach) and Derek Oliver (first-year freshman coach).

“Rob and Ken play a large role in the success of the program,” said Woitkowski Porco. “They are loyal, intelligent, supportive, and are not just colleagues but also friends. We all have a passion for the game; more importantly, all three of us are there for the girls.

“We have worked hard to be sure the girls in this program feel supported and are constantly improving as players, students and people. We have taught the players to be fierce competitors, focused and classy. There is respect which is equally given: Coach to coach, coach to player, player to coach. We have taught them to recognize and play to their strengths and to embrace their own and each other's weaknesses.”

“This would not be a successful program without my assistants,” said Geriak. “Derek was a great addition to the staff and the kids showed instant respect for him. He wants to see the players become better players, but more importantly become better people. He is a coach who can not only tell the players what to fix but also be able to show them as well.

“Brandon Tegano is the best assistant in the FCIAC hands down. He is a phenomenal motivator. He is the backbone of this program and we would not be where we are as a program without coach Tegano. He works the players harder than anyone I know and still has the kids love him. That is a very hard to do. He keeps everyone focused on the next play, including myself. He always has the kids mentally prepared for every moment that may come our way.”