Another familiar face tabbbed to lead Maine East basketball
In eight years as an assistant girls basketball coach almost exclusively at her alma mater, Maine East High School, Amanda Mistretta learned some things.
"Definitely just learning how to run a team, how to create a team, how to have your 15 girls play together as a team, to buy into what you're saying," said Mistretta, the Blue Demons' most valuable player in 2004 and 2005 while earning Central Suburban League North all-conference honors both seasons.
A shooting guard who owned the program scoring record when she graduated, Mistretta now gets the chance to apply what she learned as an assistant. She'll succeed Nicole Rinaldi, who resigned for personal reasons after last season, as Maine East's head girls varsity basketball coach.
Mistretta joins Sergio Muro, a freshman at Maine East when she was a senior, in taking over the respective girls and boys head coaching positions at their old high schools.
"Obviously, we both had a great experience playing at Maine East for us to want to come back," said Mistretta, who went on to play in college at St. Francis in Joliet, and still plays in two women's leagues.
"I've had a lot of experience, and I've worked under great coaches. I think I have a good vision for what I want at Maine East," she said.
"I'm familiar with the girls because I've been there four years, so it's nice not to have them start fresh. A lot of them already know me. I've gained their trust and built great relationships with them. So now, having known some of the girls, it's great to help them finish their high school career and help them reach their full potential."
The Blue Demons came pretty close to that in 2021-22. Their 15-14 record was the program's winningest season, according to the Illinois High School Association and MaxPreps, since 2015-16 under Karol Hanusiak.
Hanusiak, for whom Mistretta played as a freshman and assisted as an adult, was among several coaching mentors, including Rinaldi and Mistretta's own father, Cliff, who used to coach Maine East's junior varsity. Amanda served two seasons as an assistant to her father.
At that point, she was a license specialist for Walgreens in Deerfield. She eventually left to earn a master's degree in special education at National Lewis University in Wheeling, and is now in her third year teaching at Clarence E. Culver School in Niles.
"Once I found out how much I enjoyed coaching and helping our students on the court, I knew I definitely enjoyed teaching more than my corporate job," said Mistretta, also part of Dave Mello's staff at Fenton for the 2017-18 season before returning under Rinaldi.
"I wanted to do something meaningful, I wanted to do something I enjoyed every day like I enjoyed going to practice every day," she said.
Having graduated a pair of 1,000-point scorers in Mahima Chokski and Emina Hanic, Mistretta will need to rely on returners Bella Cabreles, a senior point guard, and junior shooting guard Mariah Scott. Scott comes off a knee injury that dashed her sophomore season.
"What's great about them is they're great defensive players and offensive players for us. Definitely, they're our top two hustlers on the team. They work really hard. So a lot of what we do this year is going to be focused around them, for sure," said Mistretta, who lives in Rolling Meadows.
So, guard-based transition sounds like the plan.
"We're going to expect that a lot of our offense will come from causing chaos on defense, getting a lot of steals, pushing the ball up the court, making it a fast-paced game."
Mistretta realizes it's a big jump from being an assistant coach to being the one in charge of the program and all it entails, from mundane administration to fast-paced game management.
"It's a lot harder than what it seems," she said.
"I'm just excited. I have the vision that I want to get Maine East basketball back on top. I want to be a respected team when we walk into other schools. I know Nicole did a really good job the past four years of building that up, and I want to continue that as well."