By Vincent Landolfi, Jr.
It’s been 10 years since Alisa Kresge graduated from Red Bank Catholic High School. It’s been half that for Kristina Danella. If you do the math, you’ll realize that the two never set foot on the court for their alma mater at the same time. That can no longer be said for the two Caseys all-time greats.
Along the Hudson River in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., the two are currently immersed in pursuit of the same goals for the women’s basketball program at tiny (enrollment 5,500) Division I, Marist College – a Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) title and NCAA Women’s Tournament birth. Kresge an assistant to head coach Brian Giorgis, and Danella, a knock-down, soft-touch scoring forward, are now on the same hardwood at the same time, poised for a deep playoff run in what is Danella’s final season as a player.
How this came to be is more than coincidental. It all started in the late fall of 1999 when Kresge, a freshman at the time, amazingly assisted, stole, and defended her way into the monumental lineup of the RBC’s girl’s basketball team. This was the team that won a miraculous 31 games with no losses, the final one earning the Caseys their second NJSIAA Tournament of Champions title and the #1 ranking in the tri-state area.
“It was an incredible experience,” Kresge said during a phone interview last week. “There were so many talented players, and we had such an amazing season, that as a freshman, it seemed like a dream.”
A dream that came true for a 15 year-old girls basketball player. Kresge built upon her experience from that year and became the starting point guard, and team leader for the rest of her career at RBC.
Kresge, also an honor student, was heavily recruited by schools of all sizes, but fell in love with the beautiful, sleepy, Marist campus in upstate New York. She was also impressed by Giorgis for whom she now works. Continuing to develop as a player, Alisa’s career culminated by leading the Red Foxes to 4 MAAC titles in her four years, 3 MAAC Tournament Championships, and Marist’s first-ever appearance in the Sweet 16 level of the NCAA tournament in 2006-2007. She earned honors as the MAAC Defensive Player of the Year 3 times, holds the Marist record for assists and is second all-time in steals. And of course, there was that highlight clip of her that made it onto ESPN’s SportsCenter.
Kresge received her degree in Digital Media from Marist in 2007, and knew she “always wanted to be involved in basketball”. So, involved she became, as Director of Women’s Basketball Operations for the MAAC Conference. She also served as Tournament Director of the 2009 NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Sweet 16 Regional at Sovereign Bank Arena in Trenton. All the while, Kresge was hoping that her networking with teams throughout the MAAC, and Eastern Region would lead to a different job.
“Hopefully, someone you knew would give you the opportunity to coach when an opening became available on their staff,” she said.
And that is exactly what happened when her alma mater, and coach Giorgis, scooped her up to work with the team’s guards, as well as assist in recruiting, alumni relations, the Junior Hoop Club and Marist Girls’ Basketball Camp.
“It’s absolute enjoyment!” Kresge exuded. “It’s not like going to work; very different from a 9-5 typical job.”
Danella was an altogether different type of player. At 6’1”, and with a deadly 3-point shot, she was a flat-out offensive superstar, who became Red Bank Catholic’s all-time leading scorer. She was a four time All-Shore 1st Team member, and was twice named the Shore Conference Player of the Year, while the Caseys won division and Shore Conference titles in 2006 and 2007, and a State Sectional Championship in 2007. Hopes were high for RBC going into her senior season of 2007-2008, but season-ending injuries to 3 key players changed its course drastically. Even with other teams focused on her every move; Danella hoisted the Caseys on her back and brought them to the Shore Conference final. She led the Shore in scoring and rebounding, and subsequently had colleges and universities salivating over her services.
Marist was a possibility, suggested by RBC girls head coach Joe Montano, because of the program’s blossoming into a Division I force under coach Giorgis, and its further success with Kresge. However, Danella chose the scholarship offered by the University of Massachusetts.
“It was a good fit at the time,” she recalled.
And she was right. At the time, former UMass head coach Marnie Dacko said they had a senior player who was graduating who was much the same type of player as Danella, and that Danella would slide right in to her spot. Also right. The recent Casey grad was named Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Week four times during the 2008-09 season, and was selected to the Atlantic 10 All-Rookie Team. As a sophomore, Danella averaged 11.6 points and 5.6 rebounds for the Minutewomen, and, at the time, was a career 40% three-point shooter. However, in 2010, coach Dacko left UMass and a new regime and system was to be ushered in.
Danella decided a change was necessary, and began searching anew for a place to finish her career. Once again Montano and others brought up Marist, now with RBC alum Kresge on staff.
“I really wanted to win and make it to the post-season,” Danella told a reporter in 2010. “They’ve been to the NCAAs five straight years, so this is a great opportunity.”
It wasn’t only about winning and the playoffs, though. It was about choosing a place to live, go to school, and feel comfortable for the remainder of her career.
“It clicked right away,” Danella said about her visit to the Poughkeepsie college. “I fell in love with the school and the campus, and got along with my teammates immediately. I committed right there and then.”
It was a bit of an adjustment period for Danella, who is from Manalapan. While she could practice with the team, she had to sit out a season of games in accordance with NCAA transfer regulations. But after getting back into the swing of things on the court, Danella is right at home with the Red Foxes. So much so that last week in a game against Canisius, she took the ball at the top of the key and launched a 3-point shot that bounced up and fell through the net for her 1,000th career point. And how does it feel to be an integral part of a successful team with a fellow former Casey as an assistant coach?
“It’s a cool dynamic,” she said. “We both played in Coach Montano’s program at RBC, one of the best in the state, and Marist is one of the best major (college) programs in the country. I really like her as a coach. She is close with the players, and an excellent teacher. I couldn’t have asked for a better senior year so far.”
And while the pair of former Caseys is completely focused on the upcoming MAAC and NCAA tournaments, I asked them about their plans afterwards.
“I would like to get into coaching” Danella said, once she receives her degree in Psychology. “I am in the process of completing an application for a program called ‘So You want to be a Coach’. It helps candidates obtain graduate assistant jobs where they can get their masters degree while staying in the game to coach.
“I would love to stay in New Jersey.”
As for Kresge, “Of course it would be a dream job to be a Division I Head Coach. But, I am enjoying it here, working with our team and staff. We’ll see where life takes me.”
Hopefully one of those places is back to Red Bank Catholic where Kresge has yet to see the new gym in the Eck Student Center on the Caseys campus. She doesn’t know that inside Tradition Hall, the foyer of the athletic arena, there is a place designated as the RBC Hall of Fame. Given her post-high school accomplishments and having played on that 31-0 T.O.C. team, there may be a spot for Kresge in the Hall down the road. And don’t be surprised if right next to it, there’s a place for the school’s all-time leading girl’s basketball scorer and prolific college player. If that ever happens, there will be a lot of talk about the seasons when Danella played and Kresge coached at Marist College. No matter how it all ends up, it’s a magical time right now for two of RBC’s finest.