Mainland Boys’ Basketball Coach Dan Williams has Always Been a Mustang
Dan Williams has always been a Mustang.
He led Mainland in scoring for two straight years (1989 and 1990) and is one of the highest-scoring Mustangs in history, totaling 1,204 career points at the Linwood school. He lead a team that won 21 games to a conference championship.
"We had some great battles with Ocean City, Atlantic City, and Holy Spirit," recalled Williams. "Those games had names like Bob McCallister, Lou Roe, Jim Hoopes, Rob Higbee, and others. We lost in OT to St. Anthony's who, at the time, had won 58 straight games and was ranked No. 1 in New Jersey. I’m still very close with several of the guys from our team and it’s great to have those memories to rehash from time to time."
Williams is not only one of the best players in school history, but he is also becoming one of its best coaches. Only one coach, Whitey Haak, has won more games in Mainland boys basketball history than Williams, who has produced three 20-win seasons in four years.
"I love coaching at Mainland because I live in the community," said Williams, who is a Northfield resident. "I went to Mainland, my kids went to Mainland and it feels good to give something to the community that gave me so much. On top of that, I feel so fortunate to be able to have coached with some really great friends."
His young Mustangs got off to a slow start this season, with four sophomores and just one senior in the starting lineup, but after some adjustments, the team was able to get an invite to the Cape-Atlantic League Tournament, sneaking in as the No. 8 seed.
They faced and defeated the No. 1 seed, Egg Harbor Twp., No. 4 St. Joe's and then No. 2 seeded St. Augustine, on the way to becoming the first-ever No. 8 seed to not only win a game in the tournament, but to capture the Cape-Atlantic League title.
"I think it was a combination of a few things," Williams explained about the Mustangs late-season run. "First, we started 4 sophomores. With essentially a seven-game scrimmage season last year due to COVID, the last time the sophomores played was in eighth grade. We needed 20 varsity games for them to start to understand what they are capable of. Next, our conference was so loaded that we were well prepared down the stretch. Another factor was how bonded our team became the further the season went. These guys got together most non-game nights to eat, play pick up, play video games, etc. Finally, our lone senior starter, Christian Rodgers, was at his best in the final third of the season.
Rodgers, who was the team's starting point guard, was part of a senior class that included Noah Meyers and Owen Meade. The trio provided plenty of leadership for the young Mustangs, while giving the team some valuable minutes his season.
"I’ve never been part of a good team (as a player or as a coach) that didn’t have a strong senior class," Williams explained. "Noah and Owen may not have had all the minutes they would’ve hoped for but they practiced hard everyday, they were always ready when their numbers were called and they both made important contributions at times. Christian will be extremely difficult to replace and in the EHT playoff game, he hit two of the most clutch shots we saw all season."
Beating EHT was just one of the highlights of the Mustangs' season, but Mainland will bring back many key pieces from their championship puzzle and Williams is excited by all the talent he has returning next season.
"Guys like Timmy Travagline and Jamie Tyson may not have been well known before the season but both were really strong this season on both sides of the ball," said Williams. Stephen Ordille may have been the most effective player in the league who averaged less than three points per game. He played our opponents' best perimeter player in almost every game."
The team also returns Cohen Cook, who has turned into one of the top scorers in the Cape-Atlantic League at 17.3 points per game.
Williams says he likes the direction of the program and can see it growing in a multitude of ways, including seeing their alumni coming out to support the team. You see young players, who at the time were not a part of the Mustangs program, cheering on the team. Guys like Cohen Cook, Jamie Tyson, Keaton Loewenstern and Stephen Ordille, who were all in eighth grade at the time, rooting Mainland on.
"We want to foster an atmosphere that has guys giving their all while they are here, guys coming back to stay in touch with the program and share things they learned along the way and have the younger kids pumped up to come to Mainland and put the jersey on," Williams stated.
Williams' team won the Cape-Atlantic League title and he was named The South Jersey Basketball Summit Organization, Ken Leary-Jim Mogan Coach of the Year for the 2021-22 season.