Congratulations to all of the Cal-Hi Sports State Coaches of the year for girls basketball. Two of the five for divisions played each other in the NorCal Open Division semifinals. Another also has been an assistant for a U.S. national team while another did a great job after his girls lost in a section semifinal.
For more on this year’s overall State Coach of the Year announcement, CLICK HERE.
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Note: Open Division coaches were considered for the CIF divisions their teams would have played in had teams not moved up after the section playoffs and that multiple selections are only listed when a coach is later named the overall State Coach of the Year.
Torino Johnson (Palisades, Pacific Palisades)
In nine years at Palisades, Johnson has established himself as one of the top coaches in Southern California with four CIF L.A. City Section titles in six years, including the section’s first two Open Division titles.
All of that has tended to force the Dolphins up into the SoCal Open Division, which is a situation that doesn’t seem to faze Johnson. He’s always sought out top competition – whether to come to Palisades’ own season-opening tournament or in trips to Northern California to play in events such as the MLK Classic at St. Mary’s of Stockton.
This year’s team at Pali just missed getting a final state ranking due to a loss to Cardinal Newman of Santa Rosa, but the team still went 24-9 with one win over CIF Southern Section Open Division consolation winner Troy of Fullerton and only lost by 79-67 in its SoCal Open Division first-round game to eventual state champ Chaminade.
Johnson also has caught the attention of USA Basketball. He was on the coaching staff for last summer’s Under-16 U.S. National Team and has been a member of the USA Open Court program.
The last Division I State Coach of the Year was James Anderson from Narbonne of Harbor City in 2000.
Last 10 honorees: 2015 Kelli DiMuro (West Hills Chaminade); 2014 Craig Campbell (Fresno Clovis West); 2013 Anders Anderson (Etiwanda); 2012 Cheryl Draper (Berkeley); 2011 Gail Hale (Moreno Valley Canyon Springs); 2010 Marty Verdugo (Santa Monica); 2009 Ron Hirschman (Danville Monte Vista); 2008 Lorene Morgan (Long Beach Millikan); 2007 Carl Buggs (Long Beach Poly); 2006 Hans de Lannoy (Danville San Ramon Valley).
Mark Lehman (Cajon, San Bernardino)
As the CIF D2 state champion, we have placed Lehman – our 2015-16 State Coach of the Year – also as the D2 State Coach of the Year. Where to put some CIF Southern Section players for all-state division teams is still not decided, but for coach of the year and player of the year honors it’s going to be the divisions in which the teams played in for the state playoffs. While Lehman is the first from the Inland Empire to be State Coach of the Year, that’s not the case for this division. Leonard DeCoud from J.W. North of Riverside was the choice for 2012.
Last 10 honorees: 2015 Miguel Granillo (Tracy Kimball); 2014 Kelli DiMuro (Chaminade, West Hills); 2013 Michelle Massari (Sacramento); 2012 Leonard DeCoud (Riverside J.W. North); 2011 Wade Nakamura (San Jose Presentation); 2010 Tom Parrish (Hanford); 2009 Steve White (El Dorado Hills Oak Ridge); 2008 Victor Pitton (Sacramento St. Francis); 2007 Rick Thompson (Norco); 2006 Kim Cram-Torres (Villa Park).
Kelly Sopak (Miramonte, Orinda)
His Matadors fell one game short of making it all the way to the Promised Land with their defeat to Chaminade (West Hills) in the CIF Open Division title game, and they arguably have the best player in the state in Sabrina Ionescu, but Sopak has built his Northern Regional Open Division championship team on entirely home grown girls, including Ionescu, that are all from the same school district.
“Individual accolades never really have done much for me but as I get older I start to think and reflect a lot more, and this award/honor is pretty cool and it is special to me,” said Sopak earlier this week before boarding a plane for Brooklyn and the Barclays Center where he will be an assistant on the West squad in the Jordan Brand Classic All-Star Game this Friday. “This honor is something that our players, coaching staff, administration and our fans can take great pride in because it is and was a total team effort and the support I received this year and since the day I accepted the job at Miramonte has been unwavering. To be recognized by Cal Hi Sports is a humbling moment for me. I love coaching and like anyone else I take great pride in trying to be the best at doing something I love.”
Prior to coming to Miramonte, where he has a 195-26 record in seven years and has won the past three CIF North Coast Section Division III titles, Sopak spent four years at Walnut Creek Northgate where he compiled a 94-20 record. He is recognized as one of the top coaches on the West Coast and was a court coach on the 2015 USA U16 team. He is also a coach, director and founder of the 2015 Nike National champion Cal Stars club program. Sopak does all this despite a full time practice as a State Farm agent.
We placed Sopak as D3 for State Coach of the Year honors since Miramonte won the NCS D3 title. It is the first time we have been able to get him onto our coaching honors list and may not be the list. Previous divisional coaches of the year can later be chosen as State Coach of the Year.
Last 10 honorees: 2015 LyRyan Russell (S.F. Sacred Heart Cathedral); 2014 Andrew Butcher (Santa Barbara); 2013 Malik McCord (Oakland Bishop O’Dowd); 2012 Malik McCord (Oakland Bishop O’Dowd); 2011 Tom Howard (Orange Lutheran); 2010 Tony Scott (Inglewood); 2009 Mark Gradoville (Fresno Roosevelt); 2008 Michael Anderson (Anaheim Magnolia); 2007 Richard Schaaf (Rancho SM Santa Margarita); 2006 Gary Blate (Oakhurst Yosemite).
Stephen Pezzola (Salesian, Richmond)
This year’s team may not have been his best in the seven years Pezzola has been at the helm of the Pride, since his 2014 team with current Louisville star Mariya Moore made it to the CIF Open Division title game before falling to Long Beach Poly. However, this team was very young and won some games with USC-bound Minyon Moore (Mariya’s sister) leading the charge they were not expected to win, most notably a 70-66 win on the road at Archbishop Mitty (San Jose) in the Northern Regional Open Division quarterfinals.
“Thank you very, very much. I really appreciate Cal-Hi Sports recognizing me for my efforts, but it’s really all about the team and the girls,” said Pezzola, who besides coaching Salesian is the coach of the Orinda Magic elite club team, and also an attorney practicing as a business consultant. “This was a great group of young ladies that were dedicated to the team. The chemistry built as the year went on and one thing that was significant was all 12 girls contributed.”
This year’s team did win 27 games, including a win over La Jolla Country Day, and one of their losses was St. Mary’s of Stockton (No. 1 in the nation at the time) in overtime.
Similar to D3 State Coach of the Year Kelly Sopak, Pezzola was chosen for D4 by us because Salesian won the CIF North Coast Section D4 title. And like Sopak, he’s a highly-respected coach we had yet to honor before.
Last 10 honorees: 2015 David Esparza (Anaheim Fairmont Prep); 2014 Jim Hart (Scotts Valley); 2013 McKinsey Hadley (Gardena Serra); 2012 Terri Bamford (La Jolla Country Day); 2011 Steve Smith (Los Angeles Windward); 2010 Melissa Hearlihy (North Hollywood Harvard-Westlake); 2009 David Monroe (Chula Vista Mater Dei); 2008 Dr. Rodney Faucett (Vallejo St. Patrick-St. Vincent); 2007 Bo Corona (Inglewood St. Mary’s Academy); 2006 Brian Harrigan (S.F. Sacred Heart Cathedral).
Jon Sampang (Village Christian, Sun Valley)
Since Donovan Blythe of back-to-back CIF D5 state champ Eastside Prep was the honoree for this division last year, we needed to look for a different coach for this season. It didn’t take long to settle on Sampang, who had a breakthrough season with the Crusaders (26-9) in his sixth year on the job.
After tough seasons of 14-13 and 11-16 in 2014 and 2015, Sampang and Village Christian went 26-9 this season and charged to the CIF D5 state final despite losing in the CIF Southern Section Division 5AA semifinals to Flintridge Prep.
The Crusaders avenged their loss to Flintridge Prep in the SoCal D5 playoffs, then knocked off three section champions in a row – Mira Mesa of San Diego (64-35), Price of Los Angeles (69-54) and Mission Prep of San Luis Obispo (58-33) — to get to Sacramento. Mission Prep also had been higher-ranked all season as well so the 25-point win was especially impressive.
Sampang, a former player at Crescenta Valley (La Crescenta), is only the second coach from the San Fernando Valley to be the D5 State Coach of the Year. The first was Alicia Komaki of Sierra Canyon for 2013. He had a young team at Village Christian, too. Only one senior was on the roster this season.
Last 10 honorees: 2015 Donovan Blythe (East Palo Alto Eastside Prep); 2014 Doc Scheppler (Los Altos Hills Pinewood); 2013 Alicia Komaki (Chatsworth Sierra Canyon); 2012 Que Ngo (Stockton Brookside Christian); 2011 Julianne Berry (Alameda St. Joseph Notre Dame); 2010 Doc Scheppler (Los Altos Hills Pinewood); 2009 Mike Rubie (Sacramento Bradshaw Christian); 2008 Mike Talps (Oakland Head-Royce); 2007 Doug Croue (Santa Rosa Rincon Valley Christian); 2006 Shawn Flaherty (Redding Liberty Christian).