Longtime leader of boys and girls teams at Cajon of San Bernardino landed CIF Division II state title and gets the nod as state’s leading coach in girls hoops for the 2015-16 season. He’s also the first-ever State Coach of the Year in girls basketball from the Inland Empire.
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There are actually a number of the state’s all-time best girls basketball head coaches who started coaching the boys and then switched to girls.
Two of the most well-known are Kevin Kiernan from Mater Dei of Santa Ana and Tom Gonsalves from St. Mary’s of Stockton. Those two also have been State Coaches of the Year and now another with deep roots as a boys coach, Mark Lehman from Cajon of San Bernardino, is joining them as a State Coach of the Year.
In joining the all-time list of State Coaches of the Year that stretches back to the 1970s, Lehman is the second honoree in a row from the CIF Southern Section following Kelli DiMuro of West Hills Chaminade from last year. He’s the first one ever, however, from the Inland Empire. DiMuro guided Chaminade to the CIF Open Division state title and wasn’t considered for State Coach of the Year this time because it’s an honor that is only awarded to a coach once in his or her career.
“That’s quite an honor,” Lehman said on Wednesday afternoon after being told of the selection. “Winning the state title just seemed to work out this year. Every coach has a dream of doing that, but the chances really are not that high.”
Lehman was the boys head coach at Cajon for 14 years, mostly in the 1990s, and rang up 309 wins. He also was the San Bernardino Sun’s Coach of the Year in boys basketball for the 1991-92 season.
Since switching to girls basketball for the 2001-02 season, you could say that Lehman’s teams at Cajon have been dominant. His record of 407-48 includes an 85-game league winning streak (one of the longest in SoCal history) and getting at least a share of 13 league titles in the last 14 seasons.
There were some teams, of course, that transcended even local lore. The best of those for Lehman prior to this year came in 2008 and 2009 when the Cowgirls won two CIF Southern Section titles. Those teams were led by all-state players Layshia Clarendon and Darshae Burnside. Clarendon, the former standout at Cal, also of course is a former Ms. Basketball State Player of the Year.
Despite teams that have gone 28-4, 27-2, 27-1, 29-2, 32-3, 28-1, 27-1, 27-2 and 27-2, the one missing piece of the puzzle for Lehman’s career was a CIF state title. But last month, his girls at Cajon put an end to that situation when it defeated Elk Grove 55-36 for the CIF Division II state title.
Although Elk Grove entered the game after winning the CIF D2 NorCal title as a No. 12 seed, the Cowgirls needed to go on a 19-0 run late in the third quarter and early in the fourth to pull away from a 32-31 deficit. It was their second straight impressive performance to end the season with the first being that 51-30 win in the SoCal D2 final over perennial powerhouse Mater Dei.
Lehman had great players on his roster such as Kayla Washington, Tyla Turner, Tyra Turner and Taylor Goldsberry and it was a season in which losing in the first two rounds of the CIF Southern Section Open Division may have actually helped toward getting the D2 state title.
Regardless, it still didn’t take long for him to be selected as State Coach of the Year. He’s won with teams of all types over the years, some with deep rosters and some without. In the season following the graduation of Clarendon and Burnside, for example, Cajon went 25-4 and Lehman used a rotating five-player-in, five-player-out system.
This year’s team had star-power, but it was its defense that really set the tone. How many times has Mater Dei been held to 30 points? We didn’t find any totals that low in the last five years and it may be the lowest since Kiernan took over in 2008.
“I think the players knew that defense was going to be the No. 1 key,” Lehman said. “Offense can be sporadic, but playing defense can stop teams from scoring and give you a chance to win. Our five senior starters really improved their man defense throughout the season.”
On a personal note, Lehman has always sent us great info about his players over the years, without criticizing other players from other teams. We’re pretty sure he’s disagreed with some of Cajon’s rankings and some of the player selections, but has been supportive and a class act for many years.
“I just think overall as a coach you have to keep improving,” Lehman said. “I still don’t know all there is to know. You just try to get better, especially with the psychology of players. You have to really coach each player as an individual, then get them involved for the team.”
Lehman has certainly done that for more than 30 years. Congratulations.
GIRLS STATE COACHES OF THE YEAR ALL-TIME LIST
(Selected by Cal-Hi Sports)
2016 – Mark Lehman, San Bernardino Cajon (27-6)
2015 – Kelli DiMuro, West Hills Chaminade (27-4)
2014 – Doc Scheppler, Los Altos Hills Pinewood (30-3)
2013 – Malik McCord, Oakland Bishop O’Dowd (30-3)
2012 – Terri Bamford, La Jolla Country Day (32-1)
2011 – Steve Smith, Los Angeles Windward (29-4)
2010 – Melissa Hearlihy, North Hollywood Harvard-Westlake (34-1)
2009 – Ron Hirschman, Danville Monte Vista (29-3)
2008 – Lorene Morgan, Long Beach Millikan (28-5)
2007 – Carl Buggs, Long Beach Poly (36-1)
2006 – Brian Harrigan, San Francisco Sacred Heart Cathedral (30-2)
2005 – Richard Wiard, Bishop Amat (35-0)
2004 – Tom Gonsalves, Stockton St. Mary’s (32-4)
2003 – Kevin Kiernan, Fullerton Troy (31-2)
2002 – Lisa Cooper, Torrance Bishop Montgomery (28-5)
2001 – Dwayne Tubbs, Hanford (31-2)
2000 – James Anderson, Harbor City Narbonne (34-0)
1999 – Sue Phillips, San Jose Mitty (31-0)
1998 – Jeff Sink, Brea Brea-Olinda (33-1)
1997 – Yvette Angel, Torrance Bishop Montgomery (29-3)
1996 – Mary Hauser, Santa Ana Mater Dei (29-3)
1995 – Scott Brown, Moraga Campolindo (32-3)
1994 – Mike Ciardella, Atherton Sacred Heart Prep (38-0)
1993 – Ellis Barfield, Lynwood (31-0)
1992 – Wendell Yoshida, RH Estates Peninsula (33-0)
1991 – Gene Nakamura, Berkeley (30-2)
1990 – Frank Scott, Inglewood Morningside (32-3)
1989 – Mark Trakh, Brea Brea-Olinda (31-2)
1988 – Richard Hull, Willows (26-4)
1987 – Lee Trepanier, San Diego Pt. Loma (34-0)
1986 – Van Girard, Lynwood (28-4)
1985 – Tom Campbell, Chico Pleasant Valley (28-0)
1984 – Joe Vaughan, Ventura Buena (31-0)
1983 – Larry Newman, Anderson (26-1)
1982 – Tom Pryor, Cerritos Gahr (29-5)
1981 – Art Webb, L.A. Locke (19-2)
1980 – Spike Hensley, Berkeley (29-0)
1979 – Harvey Green, Woodland Hills El Camino Real (19-0)
1978 – Joanne Kellogg, Huntington Beach (25-2)
1977 – Tami Yasuda, Fair Oaks Bella Vista (30-1)
1976 – Chuck Shively, Ventura (23-0)
1975 – Janet Balsley, San Diego Pt. Loma (34-0)
1974 – No selection
1973 – Mary Brown, Fresno San Joaquin Memorial (12-0)
1972 – Judy Hartz, Ventura Buena (8-0)