Congratulations to all of the 2019 Cal-Hi Sports State Coaches of the year for girls basketball. These are the ones for each CIF division and it’s a group that includes a coach who’s come through a battle with cancer and another coach who’s had to keep a program strong after the previous coach was arrested.
For more on this year’s overall State Coach of the Year announcement, CLICK HERE.
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Note: Open Division and Division I coaches are considered for the same category. For the other divisions, they are based on CIF state playoff divisions and not section playoffs. We know that competitive equity placements have altered the overall strength of teams in the lower divisions, but we have years and years of choosing coaches from D1 through D5 and it’s just a lot easier to simply continue in the same format. The differences in competitive equity for the Open/D1 category will be seen on the all-state teams with much larger numbers of players from those teams gaining honors.
(Associate editor Harold Abend did the writing about Oakland’s Orlando Gray)
OPEN DIVISION/DIVISION I
Alicia Komaki (Sierra Canyon, Chatsworth)
As the overall State Coach of the Year, Komaki also goes into this position for this category. She previously was a divisional State Coach of the Year for D5 in 2013. It’s not unusual for a coach to win a divisional statewide honor and then become State Coach of the Year later. After that, though, there are no repeat selections. It’s been a longtime policy to look for coaches who’ve never had honors before as Coach of the Year. With a state as large as California, that’s never been a problem.
Last 10 honorees: 2018 McKinsey Hadley (Gardena Serra); 2017 Craig Campbell (Fresno Clovis West); 2016 Torino Johnson (Palisades, Pacific Palisades); 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).
Jose Herrera (Mark Keppel, Alhambra)
The girls basketball program at Mark Keppel after the 2014-15 season easily could have fallen apart. The coach from that season who went to the CIF Division II state championship, Joe Kikuchi, had been arrested. He would eventually be convicted of sexually abusing a student and in February of 2017 was convicted and sentenced to five years in state prison.
Herrera wouldn’t let the Aztecs crumble, however. He stepped in after two years at South El Monte (that team was 0-10 in league when he started and had improved to 8-4 when he left) and has not only kept the Keppel program strong but it has gotten even better.
This year’s team went 27-7 after going 30-5 last year and despite losing in an overtime heart-breaker to Rolling Hills Prep of San Pedro in the CIF SoCal D2 regional final, how Herrera has done his job considering how it was when he started is now being recognized with a state coaching honor.
“This season was an amazing journey, one that I will remember for the rest of my life,” Herrera said in an email on Wednesday after learning he’d be a state coach of the year. “This was my first class when I got hired at Mark Keppel and our athletes and parents believe in my philosophy and allowed me to guide them. My team made a big impact on the court but they made a bigger impact on the community with the youth teams surrounding our school. Yes we unfortunately lost in the regional finals but when you have youth kids crying at the game because our team lost, that left a huge impact with me and my program. We have come a long way and I was thankful to be a part of my players’ journey this past season.
Herrera, who also thanked the other coaches on his staff, the administration, his wife, students and their parents, began his coaching career as an assistant coach at Rio Hondo College in Whittier. He was then an assistant for six years at Chapman University prior to coaching at South El Monte as its head coach for two years.
Herrera is the first D2 State Coach of the Year from the San Gabriel Valley since the honor was instituted after the 1988 season.
Last 10 honorees: 2018 Roger DiCarlo (San Marcos); 2017 Allison Johnson (Fairfield Vanden); 2016 Mark Lehman (San Bernardino Cajon); 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).
Orlando Gray (Oakland)
It would be hard to find a high school coach anywhere in any sport that has the kind of story to tell as 2019 Cal-Hi Sports Division III Coach of the Year Orlando Gray.
After being an assistant on the 2004 and 2005 Oakland Tech teams that featured his daughter Alexis Gray-Lawson and won CIF Division I state championships, Gray now has one of his own. It was the first ever state title for Oakland High, and after a 30-5 season that ended in a 51-35 victory over McFarland in the CIF Division III title game earlier this month at the Golden 1 Center is Sacramento, Gray and his Wildcats girls also posted the first 30-win season in school history.
“Wow, thank you,” was the first words Gray uttered when told he was being honored. “It feels great to get some recognition, and it’s hard to put into words how grateful I am to be recognized, but it’s more about getting an opportunity to help children.”
The road has not been an easy one for Gray. After the second state championship at Oakland Tech, he took the head coaching job but during the 2007 season he had surgery for cancer. After the surgery, he came back and coached in the 2007-2008 season but the fight with cancer sidelined him for three years.
Gray came back for the 2011-2012 season while still fighting cancer to take over an Oakland High team that had been 8-54 the previous three seasons. He got them to 10-16 his first year but the cancer caused him to miss the 2012-2013 season and the team toppled to 5-19.
After being declared cancer free, Gray came back to the Wildcats’ helm for the 2013-14 season and Oakland was back on track again with a 15-13 finish. Since then, he has had only one losing season (11-13 in 2015-2016) and two 20-win seasons besides this year.
Not a lot of coaches would do what Gray has done with what he’s gone through, and this year with the teacher’s strike and severe budget cuts that make coaches’ salaries near zilch makes it even more impressive, but Gray, who was born and raised in Oakland and graduated from McClymonds, tells it like it is.
“Because I still loved the game and I could make an impact and help children,” was Gray’s response when asked why he would return to coaching while still fighting cancer. “Coaching for me has never been about money, and I give my salary back to the program. It’s about a love of children.”
“This year with the strike and everything the girls went through it was good to help the girls do something positive for the school and the city of Oakland,” concluded Gray.
Now, not only can Gray claim a state championship of his own, but a statewide coaching honor as well.
Last 10 honorees: 2018 John Langston (Sacramento West Campus); 2017 Rich Yoon (Rosary Academy, Fullerton); 2016 Kelly Sopak (Orinda Miramonte); 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).
LeRoy Hurt (Oakland Tech)
There was some thought given to not choosing LeRoy for this division since Oakland High’s Orlando Gray was selected first for Division III. After all, it is unusual to honor two coaches from the same league when one of the two, in this case Gray, was the winner in games over the other one.
In looking over the long resume of coaching by Hurt, however, during a career for both boys and girls basketball that began in the early 1990s, it became just too much to ignore. He deserves some of the spotlight as well and it’s not like Oakland High blew out his girls when the two teams faced off.
Hurt is from Oakland Tech himself (Class of 1989 grad) and then graduated from UC Davis with a degree in civil engineering. He began coaching eighth grade boys and girls at Emerson Junior High in Davis in 1993-94 and since then had coached girls at Piedmont, St. Elizabeth of Oakland. In 2005, he founded the California Ballaz AAU program and has coached boys and girls for more than 20 years.
Following a 45-43 loss to Oakland in the OAL championship, Hurt and the Bulldogs went to the CIF D4 playoffs (the Wildcats were in D3) and used their experience to help them roll to a state title. The team’s only close game was a 44-42 win in the NorCal quarterfinals against Redwood of Larkspur. Hurt’s squad won the NorCal title by beating Menlo-Atherton of Atherton 59-46 and took the state crown with a 55-27 domination of Covina Northview.
The only other coaches from the East Bay who’ve been D4 State Coaches of the Year are Stephen Pezzola of Richmond Salesian (2016), Dr. Rodney Faucett of Vallejo St. Patrick-St. Vincent (2008), Scott Brown of Moraga Campolindo (1995) and Al Ossello of Campolindo (1990).
Last 10 honorees: 2018 Buck Matthews (Portola Valley Woodside Priory); 2017 Dawnesha Buckner (Los Osos, Rancho Cucamonga); 2016 Stephen Pezzola (Richmond Salesian); 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 Catholic).
Anna Almeida (Caruthers)
For the second straight year, a CIF Central Section school won the CIF D5 state title and now for the second straight year a coach from that section has gained the coaching honor for this division. Almeida follows last year’s winner, Amy Bush, from Sierra Pacific of Hanford.
It’s been whirlwind of recognition for Almeida and her girls following their triumph over Ramona of Riverside on March 8 in the state championships at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento. There was a parade through town in which the girls rode on a flatbed truck. And just earlier this week, it was proclaimed as Caruthers Girls Basketball Day in Fresno County by that county’s Board of Supervisors.
Almeida completed her 15th season as head coach of the Blue Raiders. Early on in her career, during the 2005 season, she gained media attention for the possibility of giving birth during the section playoffs. She wound up having that baby just after that season ended. This current senior class at Caruthers put everything over the top. In addition to winning the state title, Almeida’s team won a section title in 2016.
Caruthers opened its bid for the CIF D5 title with home wins against Woodland Christian, Mariposa County of Mariposa and Gridley. Then came the task of traveling more than 400 miles for a Tuesday game at St. Bernard’s (Eureka) after a Saturday game. The Blue Raiders won 52-44. They cruised in the state final, beating Northview of Covina 62-38.
Last 10 honorees: 2018 Amy Bush (Hanford Sierra Pacific); 2017 Richard Masson (San Pedro Rolling Hills Prep); 2016 Jon Sampang (Sun Valley Village Christian); 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 Denise Woods (Los Angeles View Park).