DEEP RIVER >> Jeff Bernardi, the associate head basketball coach at Valley Regional who helped establish the Warriors as one of the state’s top programs, has been named the head coach at East Lyme High School.
Bernardi, 29, met with the Vikings players this week. He is also in the process of assembling a coaching staff, as well as preparing for East Lyme’s summer league participation.
“Jeff brings demonstrated leadership and success in developing athletes to perform at a high level to our program,” said East Lyme athletic director Steve Hargis in a press release. “He is extremely knowledgeable about the basketball X’s and O’s but equally important he is a teacher that will support our academically-based athletics program. We believe that this unique combination of skill sets will bring back the winning tradition of East Lyme High School basketball.”
During Bernardi’s five-year tenure in Deep River, the Warriors captured two state championships, winning the Class S title in 2011 and the Class M crown in 2013. Valley Regional reached the Class S finals last March, losing to Sacred Heart-Waterbury in their third trip to the Mohegan Sun Arena in four years.
The Warriors also won the Shoreline Conference tournament championship in 2013.
“It’s been a great run,” said Bernardi, who is a social studies teacher at Valley. “It’s been remarkable and it feels bittersweet to have to leave. I’ve developed some great relationships here at Valley that are so special to me and I’m looking to do the same at East Lyme.”
The Warriors compiled a won-lost mark of 91-17 over the past four seasons.
“Jeff was a vital part of what we’ve done here and it will be impossible to replace him,” said Valley Regional head basketball coach Kevin Woods. “It just wasn’t his knowledge of the game. He’s a good person. He was someone I could lean on and trust. I only want what’s best for Jeff and he deserves to be a head coach.”
Bernardi starred at Guilford High School and was selected to the New Haven Register All-Area boys basketball team in 2003. He played collegiate basketball at Hamilton College in Clinton (N.Y.), where he led the Continentals to NCAA Division III tournament appearances in 2004 and 2006.
During his senior season (2006-2007), Bernardi, who was selected the team captain, suffered a sports hernia injury. When it became apparent that the injury was healing slowly and he was going to miss the entire season, Bernardi was named a student assistant coach.
“I worked with the defense, which is my pride and joy,” said Bernardi. “Being on the sidelines, it helped me see the game in a different light. I really believed it helped develop my coaching technique and style, and was a valuable experience for the progression of my coaching career.”
Bernardi was the assistant varsity and head freshman coach at Guilford (2008-2009) before joining Woods at Valley Regional.
East Lyme went 3-17 last season in the Eastern Connecticut Conference.
“We have some rebuilding to do,” Bernardi added. “But this is a school with strong athletic programs. They’ve had some great basketball teams in the past.”
Said Woods, “Jeff has the mentality of doing what it takes to be successful and buying into the team concept. He’s totally battle-tested and he’s bringing some real big game experience to a tough conference. There’s no doubt East Lyme will be on the map in a couple of years.”