By Bill Burt
---- — After 18 years, four state titles and 387 victories as Andover High girls basketball coach, Jim Tildsley has decided to drop the “coach” from his moniker.
Tildsley, who turns 62 in April, has quietly announced his retirement after an amazing run as head coach of the Golden Warriors.
“I had thought about (leaving) last year, but I really owed it to Devon (Caveney) and Jackie (Alois) to come back this winter,” said Tildsley. “And I’m really glad I came back.
“Those two girls were the heart and soul of the team. All of the girls were great. It was fun to go to practice every day. We got as far as we could possibly get. ... But now it’s time to move on.”
Tildsley leaves Andover and the coaching ranks as one of the best of the best in state history.
Before this winter, his Andover teams, led by two-time Gatorade Player of the Year Nicole Boudreau, won three straight state titles (2010-12), losing only two games over that span.
Tildsley retires with a record of 378-60 at Andover High, including 8 Division 1 North sectional titles, seven EMass titles and four state titles.
“I was lucky when I took over. The Muller twins (Charlotte and Sarah) were both sophomores,” said Tildsley. “I’ll never forget the first (Greater) Lawrence Christmas Tourney I coached,” said Tildsley. “We beat Methuen in the finals.
“Then later in the year, we played Haverhill in our gym, when both teams were undefeated. They beat us by 29. Then we went back to their place and lost by 12. It was tough going against Methuen and Haverhill. But I remember thinking we’re going to get better.”
Methodically, Andover began its ascent up the Merrimack Valley Conference ladder, eventually surpassing state championship programs in Haverhill and Methuen.
Since then the memories have just poured in.
Andover’s first trip to the Garden, led by the Muller twins, which ended in a loss to Braintree, is one of the many highlights.
“I remember thinking, ‘I wonder if we’ll ever come back here,’” recalled Tildsley. “I honestly don’t remember how many games we ended up playing in the Boston Garden. It’s crazy when you think about it.”
Tildsley still gets chills when recalling the first state title win, 48-47, in 2003, when Samantha Hughes hit the winning shot and free throw with .9 seconds left.
Then, of course, came the incredible “Nicole Boudreau Run” over the last three winters, when Tildsley’s teams finished 97-9 en route to three state championships.
While Boudreau gets a lion’s share of the credit, the Boston College freshman sensation says the run wouldn’t have happened without Coach Tildsley.
“He’s won four state championships over his coaching career at Andover High, which just shows how great he is at preparing his teams and putting them in a position to win,” said Boudreau, who was recently named to the ACC All-Rookie first team.
Boudreau says she owes much of her success to Tildsley.
“Mr. Tildsley was extremely hard on me, always trying to get me better,” said Boudreau. “We had the type of relationship where he knew he could yell at me and I’d respond to that. We grew closer year after year. I’ll never forget what he did for me.”
The feeling is mutual for Tildsley, who said he knew Boudreau was destined for greatness when he saw her play in fourth grade.
“Nicole helped make my job easier because she cared so much about winning,” said Tildsley. “I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, she’s the most clutch athlete that I have been associated with in my years in athletics, male or female.”
Tildsley also earns major kudos for surviving as long as he did in a town that eats, sleeps and drinks youth and high school sports. Playing time is a tough issue in every town, but it is very tough in Andover.
“One thing I committed to early on in Andover was telling girls their roles at the beginning of the season,” said Tildsley. “I remember when I played in college and didn’t get off the bench much my first two years. I wasn’t a pleasant kid on the bench. And that’s wrong.
“I would say to the girls on the bench, ‘You’re the No. 9 or No. 10 or No. 11 player. You’re not going to play much. If you can’t accept that, I understand. If you accept that, great. We need people on the bench cheering people on,’” said Tildsley. “It’s never been a problem.”
Tildsley said he hasn’t made any plans for next winter, his first in retirement, other than the fact that he’ll watch his “kids” play in college.
With his son and daughter long gone from their college days, the “kids” Tildsley is referring to are some of his most recent former players at Andover High, including Boudreau (BC), Natalie Gomez (Marist, basketball), Ally Fazio (UConn, lacrosse) and soon-to-be grads, Jackie Alois (Brown, soccer) and Devon Caveney (Williams, basketball).
“I am already looking forward to going to games and rooting them on,” said Tildsley. “I had a great career and so many memories at Andover (High), and not all of them are about winning. The girls made my job a lot of fun. We had a lot of laughs. I thank them for that.”
Head coaching jobs: Wimington High boys (1979-1985), Wilmington High girls (1991-94), Andover High girls (1995-2013)
Andover High accomplishments
Overall record: 387-60
Division. 1 North titles: 8
EMass titles: 7
State titles: 4 (2003, 2010-12). Haverhill is the only Division 1 girls team to three-peat in the 37-year history of the modern girls state tourney. Andover won 42 straight games (Feb. 6, 2011 to Dec. 28, 2012). Andover won its first state title on March 15, 2003, beating Minnechaug Regional, 48-47, when senior Samantha Hughes converted a traditional 3-point play to win the game with less than a second to play. Andover won three straight state titles from 2010 to 2012, finishing 97-9, winning 39 straight and 54 of last 55 games.