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Thunderbolt Sports Media 2023-24 Coaches of the Year

Jordan McHale, Head Softball Coach (left) and Jhamal Diggs, Head Boys' Volleyball Coach (right)

Photo credits: The Cranston Herald, The Providence Journal, CHSE Photography, Team Instagram accounts, Thunderbolt Sports Media


Coaches of the Year - The Process

As stated in our introduction to the Players of the Year, Cranston East, for a variety of reasons, is not an easy place to coach for any sport. All of our coaches deserve credit for the time and energy they put forth to provide the best possible environment for our student-athletes to perform, but since wins and losses are tracked in competitive sports, there are a few individuals who stood out above the rest due to their team’s success.

Officer Matt Davis led the field hockey team to a surprising winning record in the fall, while Coach Drew Hochman went a combined 26-4 with the girls’ and boys’ tennis teams. His candidacy was a complicated one based on the multiple seasons and coaching a girls AND a boys team. 

Spring saw more overall team success, including Coach Hochman again, and with baseball going 12-6 on their way to a sub-division championship and #4 overall seed in the Division I tournament, the work of head coach Gary Bucci was also considered. 

However, these two selections were the most obvious to us, so here are the 2023-24 TSM Coaches of the Year:

GIRLS COACH OF THE YEAR: Jordan McHale, Softball

Undefeated regular season? Check.

Number one seed for the playoffs? Check.

Completely rebuilding a program two years after finishing a season winless? Check.

One win away from a state championship? Check.

This selection didn’t need much discussion. Jordan McHale is TSM’s 2023-24 Girls’ Coach of the Year. We’re also pretty sure this isn’t the only coach of the year award McHale will be winning this spring.

While it’s our job to heap praise upon Coach McHale, she couldn’t say enough about her team when asked about her team MVPs, Isabella Sousa and Nevaeh Fatorma: “(They have) 13 amazing teammates that have had (their) back the entire season. No matter what lineup we use, they're getting the outs, making the plays and absolutely crushing the ball on offense. Every single player on this team has a heart of gold paired with a desire to be the best they can possibly be. This team is once-in-a-lifetime and I am so lucky to be the one to coach them!”

Cranston East is lucky McHale joined the staff two years ago with her former teammate at Southern Connecticut State University, Yesenia Evaristo. When Evaristo left after one season to become the pitching coach at Rhode Island College, McHale took over the program in 2023 and immediately started to reverse the team’s fortunes.

Focused on sound defense and fundamentals in her first season as head coach, East won eight games and advanced to the Division III semifinals before falling to eventual champion Mount St. Charles. 

This season, with an experienced core led by seniors Mariah Means-Waldorf and Kiara McGarty, a healthy leadoff dynamo in Fatorma, and a freshman pitching ace in Sousa, McHale crafted a relentless team that put relentless pressure on opponents. To date, every opponent has cracked under that pressure. And now, she has her team in position to win a state championship and finish 17-0 only two years after the team was 0-17.

While Coach McHale always gives all credit for the team’s success to her players, we give her the credit for creating a culture and environment that allows players to thrive while implementing an on-field system that puts them in the optimal position for success. However this season ultimately finishes, the Cranston East softball program is in great hands with Jordan McHale, the 2023-24 TSM Girls’ Coach of the Year.

BOYS COACH OF THE YEAR: Jhamal Diggs, Boys' Volleyball

It’s not surprising that a team coached by Jhamal Diggs has shown improvement. Diggs has earned a well-deserved reputation as a culture-changer and program builder. He did it with Cranston East’s girls’ basketball program, taking them to the state’s Sweet Sixteen in his third season before leaving to take an assistant coaching position with the Rhode Island College women’s basketball team. In his first season with the Anchorwomen, they advanced to the NCAA Division III Final Four for the first time in school history.

Diggs did it again with Johnston High School’s girls’ basketball team this past winter. A once proud program that competed at the Division I level within the last decade, declining participation and COVID-19 gutted the program, forcing it to co-op with neighbor North Providence for multiple seasons. The 2023-24 season, Johnston’s first year back on its own - and under Diggs’ leadership as head coach - saw the Panthers go 19-4 overall, win the Division IV regular season championship, and advance to the D-IV finals before falling to Hope. Clearly, Coach Diggs knows how to turn programs around.

However, it’s his work with the 2024 Cranston East boys’ volleyball team that is his finest work to date, and the one that has earned him the 2023-24 TSM Boys Coach of the Year. 

No one outside of Diggs and his players saw this coming. After taking over for the legendary Meg McGonagle in 2022, he guided the boys to the D-I semifinals and earned coach of the year honors. Heavy graduation losses saw the team fall to a disappointed 7-12 the following season. And, with much of the same cast returning around star Charles Pincince, the outside world expected much of the same from the 2024 edition.

Oh, how wrong we all were.

Under Coach Diggs, the boys’ volleyball team stunned the state with a 17-3 overall record, the number two seed in the Division I playoffs, and most impressively, beating everyone in the league outside of top-seeded North Kingstown. Most of the matches have been three set sweeps, and they have wiped opponents off the court in under an hour multiple times. They’ve improved throughout the season, shown physical and mental toughness, and not shied away from success, the true signs of a contender.

Players play, but Coach Diggs creates the environment that allows them to thrive. His efforts and team success have earned him the honor as TSM’s 2023-24 Boys Coach of the Year.

COMING NEXT WEEK: The final episode of Thunderbolt Sports Talk and an update on the future of Thunderbolt Sports Media.

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