Girls BB: More State Coaches of Year

State D4 Coach of the Year Trey Mitchell (left) takes a bite on CIF medal after team from Branson of Ross won D4 state title. At right is State D2 Coach of the Year Kerwin Walters from Sage Hill of Newport Beach. Photos: Mark Tennis / Cal-Hi Sports.


Congratulations to all of the 2022 Cal-Hi Sports State Coaches of the year for girls basketball. These are the ones for each of the five state divisions, although we do combine the Open and Division I.

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 the same five divisions for this season in which teams were placed by the CIF for the Northern California & Southern California regional 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.

OPEN DIVISION/DIVISION I
Stephen Pezzola (Salesian, Richmond)

As the overall State Coach of the Year, Pezzola also goes into this position for this category. Although this year’s team was not in the Open Division, Pezzola’s teams over the years have routinely been in the Open Division and he knows as well as anyone the pros and cons of the old way the CIF did playoff seedings and the new way. His teams just compete hard every time we’ve ever seen them.

Last 11 honorees: 2021 Martin Woods (Corona Centennial); 2020 Vanessa Nygaard (Los Angeles Windward); 2019 Alicia Komaki (Chatsworth Sierra Canyon); 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).

DIVISION II
Kerwin Walters (Sage Hill, Newport Beach)

It’s been more than two years since the devastating helicopter crash took the life of NBA legend Kobe Bryant and eight others, but the Mamba Way is still alive and well at Sage Hill where Walters and his team, with four former Mamba Academy players, went all the way to the D2 state title in 2022.

Walters, who has been coaching for 13 years at Sage Hill in basketball and golf, wasn’t just an acquaintance of Bryant. He was looking to be part of an ambitious future for the Mamba Academy, he knew everyone on board that flight and he had coached Kobe’s daughter, Gianna, plus the other two girls who died — Alyssa Altobelli and Payton Chester.

The storybook ending for Walters and his team was not easy. The Thunder had to come back in the SoCal D2 regional playoffs after losing to Orange Lutheran in the CIF Southern Section D2-A championship. They had to get past a famed program with six state titles (Long Beach Poly) in the quarterfinals, then got past Ontario Christian (a team with 31 wins) in the semifinals and won by two in the regional final against top-seed Santiago of Corona. Then in Sacramento for the state final, Sage Hill was the underdog to San Joaquin Memorial of Fresno, but defeated the Panthers, 51-47.

Walters is a native of St. Croix and grew up in New Orleans. He’s been coaching in Orange County for 21 years and it was mentioned in his writeup for being the Orange County Register’s Coach of the Year that he was mentored by the late Tim O’Brien, one of the best coaches in county history. O’Brien also worked with Yousef Etemadi, the D2 State Coach of the Year on the boys side this year from Foothill of Tustin.

There have been seven D2 state coaches of the year from Orange County since 1988, when the current five-division format began. Walters is just the third since 2000, joining Kim Cram-Torres of Villa Park for 2008 and Kevin Kiernan from Troy of Fullerton in 2003. Kiernan is now the state’s all-time winningest head coach at Mater Dei of Santa Ana.

Last 12 honorees: 2021 Steve Picchi (Redwood City Sequoia); 2020 Rashaan Shehee (Bakersfield); 2019 Jose Herrera (Alhambra Mark Keppel); 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).

DIVISION III
Dave Kavern (Porterville)

The Kavern name is well-known for basketball coaching at Porterville and now girls head coach Dave Kavern is a state coach of the year. He played at Porterville himself in the late 1970s when the team was coached by his father, Ron, who later was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame.

Dave Kavern first became head coach of the Porterville girls in 1996 and stayed for five years until he moved on to Porterville College, where he led the women’s program for 12 years. Kavern came back to his high school for the 2014-15 school year and in the last three seasons the Panthers have been on a roll.

This year’s squad at Porterville won its second CIF Central Section title in the last three years and ended 29-5 with a loss to La Salle of Pasadena in the CIF SoCal D3 final. The Panthers went 31-3 for the 2019-20 season and won the Central Section D3 championship. They were 10-4 in the strange, pandemic-impacted 2021 spring season.

Kavern is only the second D3 state coach of the year ever from the Central Section since 1988 when the current five-division format began. The first was Gary Blate from Yosemite of Oakhurst in 2006.

Note that D3 state championship head coach LeRoy Hurt was picked as a divisional state coach of the year just three years ago (2019) and it has been a policy of ours not to have repeat honorees. In a state with as many high schools as California, there are always great coaches everywhere who deserve recognition as well.

Last 12 honorees: 2021 Lynley Takaki (San Jose Lynbrook); 2020 Matt Dale (Menifee Paloma Valley); 2019 Orlando Gray (Oakland); 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).

DIVISION IV
Trey Mitchell (Branson, Ross)

It certainly is an anomaly when a first-year head coach is picked as a State Coach of the Year, but Mitchell is exactly that. Not only is Mitchell a brand new Branson girls head coach, but it’s his first head coaching job and other than training girls (and boys) players period.

Since coming west to the Bay Area from Massachusetts four years ago, Mitchell has worked as a boys JV assistant at Drew of San Francisco, trained players, and worked at an importer of seafood from Asia “to pay the bills” as Mitchell explained. Now, after winning the CIF Division IV state championship and compiling a 24-8 record, Mitchell has been named the Division IV State Coach of the Year.

“That’s humbling as heck,” Mitchell remarked when told he had been selected. “Just to be considered is an honor. This proves if you love basketball it shows.”

When Branson played at the Cardinal Newman (Santa Rosa) tournament early in the season the Bulls blew by Encinal of Alameda and then lost by a ton to Northern Regional Open Division champion Archbishop Mitty, but it was apparent Mitchell and his Bulls were playing a schedule geared towards a potential state CIF championship.

The two top Branson players were junior Hannah Golan and senior Jaliyah Wiggins. Golan averaged 19.4 points per game, 12.3 rebounds and 3.3 steals per game and Wiggins was at 12.2 points, 4.3 assists, 5.2 steals and 5.2 rebounds per game.

“This award is 100 percent because of these amazing young ladies,” said Mitchell.

Even so, the glue that held the Bulls team together and led to a third state CIF state championship since the 2007 and 2008 D5 titles was Coach Mitchell – and in a bit of a twist the head coach back then was Mike Fulton, the victorious head coach of the 2022 CIF Division V state champion San Domenico of San Rafael.

Last 12 honorees: 2021 Jerry Taylor (Fresno Roosevelt); 2020 Rick Berry (Cloverdale); 2019 LeRoy Hurt (Oakland Tech); 2018 Buck Matthews (Portola Valley Woodside Priory); 2017 Dawnesha Buckner (Rancho Cucamonga Los Osos); 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).

Ryan Coleman has taken the basketball program — boys and girls — to new heights at Shalhevet of Los Angeles. Photo: Shalhevet.com.


DIVISION V
Ryan Coleman (Shalhevet, Los Angeles)

Both of the coaches from the two teams that met in the D5 girls state final this year also are known for coaching on the boys side. Since Mike Fulton of winning team San Domenico of San Anselmo has already been D5 coach of the year twice (once for boys just two years ago and the other for girls in 2005 when he was at Branson of Ross), it’s clearly time to shine the light on Coleman.

Last spring, while coaching the Shalhevet boys, Coleman guided a team further than any team from a Jewish Orthodox high school had ever gone before. That squad reached the CIF D4 SoCal final where it lost to Bonita Vista of Chula Vista. This season, while leading the Shalhevet girls, the Firehawks went further than any girls team from a Jewish Orthodox school has ever gone when they went to the D5 state final. They lost to San Domenico, 38-27.

Just to simply have the season that it had was hard to describe for the Shalhevet girls due to injuries. Coleman had to rebuild the starting lineup in the preseason when two starters went down with injuries. Senior Jessica Melamed suffered a torn ACL and was lost for the season. Junior Talia Tibi had a dislocated kneecap and didn’t return until the CIF Southern Section playoffs. And then in the state final, the team’s top player, Yalee Schwartz, only played five minutes when she suffered a sprained ankle. She had previously missed many weeks with an ankle injury.

This was the third year in which Coleman was coaching both the boys and girls at Shalhevet at the same time. He has been an inspirational leader in the Southern California coaching community and has been proud to represent the Jewish Orthodox community as well.

Coleman is just the third coach from the San Fernando Valley to be named D5 State Coach of the Year since 1988. The only others have been Jon Sampang from Village Christian of Sun Valley for 2016 and Alicia Komaki from Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth (when it was still D5) in 2013.

“Playing until the final day of the season two years in a row is truly a blessing,” Coleman tweeted shortly after the CIF state finals. “When I chose to coach for a living I had no idea how rewarding it could be. Thank you to all my players and basketball family for allowing me to be a part of your lives.”

Last 12 honorees: 2021 Joseph Murray (San Marcos St. Joseph Academy); 2020 Jennifer Keithley (Watsonville Monte Vista Christian); 2019 Anna Almeida (Caruthers); 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).

Note: Coaches can be listed twice in a division because the second time they were honored as the overall State Coach of the Year.

Mark Tennis is the co-founder and publisher of CalHiSports.com. He can be reached at markjtennis@gmail.com. Don’t forget to follow Mark on the Cal-Hi Sports Twitter handle: @CalHiSports


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