Richmond Salesian’s Stephen Pezzola is a former corporate attorney and currently his school’s president. But his commitment to the girls basketball team and its players has been obvious since he began coaching in 2009-10, and now those efforts have been recognized by his selection for the highest coaching honor in the state. This is the one that now goes back 51 years.
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When Stephen Pezzola took the girls head coaching job at his alma mater, Salesian of Richmond, in 2009, he was working as a high-profile corporate attorney who sat on several boards of directors, and was working as a business adviser to a number of companies involved in strategic planning and corporate negotiations.
Pezzola retired from the corporate world in 2018 and the Salesian cross-country runner and basketball player while at the school became its president after serving over 15 years on the Board of Directors.
Now, after 13 years at the helm of the Pride girls basketball team, and after a 327-81 career coaching mark, not only has he won his and Salesian’s first CIF state championship in four tries with a 62-51 victory in Division I over Los Angeles Windward, Pezzola has been named the Cal-Hi Sports State Coach of the Year.
“It is truly an honor to be named Cal-Hi Sports State Coach of the Year,” Pezzola said when told he was being honored. “I respect all the effort and hard work of Cal-Hi Sports, so getting this award is truly special.”
“This year was trying in many ways with COVID outbreaks this season, injuries and illness, yet through it all we were able to keep the faith and keep on playing, peaking at the right time in the Northern Regional playoffs,” Pezzola continued. “That enabled us to bounce back from adversity and win a state championship.”
Adversity certainly did hit the Cal-Hi Sports No. 11 team in the Final Expanded Rankings. The Pride were all healthy and rolling along at 7-1 with a 63-60 loss to Archbishop Mitty (San Jose) in the title game of the Iolani Classic in Hawaii as the only blemish when they opened the West Coast Jamboree with a 77-68 win over No. 6 Centennial of Corona.
A loss to national No. 2 DeSoto (Texas) in the semifinals and then by 10 to Mitty in the third place game on December 30 followed, but at that point COVID and other maladies kept Salesian out of action for three weeks until January 20 when it began Tri-County – Rock League action.
The team, and in particular senior post Silivia “Via” Fonongaloa, were not fully healthy again after battling the lingering effects of COVID that affected workouts, practice and conditioning, until it began the run to the D1 state title on March 1 with a win over Acalanes of Lafayette.
Obviously, Pezzola could not have won the State Coach of the Year and his Pride could not have captured a state championship without the players, and the Pride had a deep line-up.
Fonongaloa, as previously mentioned, was not herself due to the lingering effects of COVID for nearly two months, but during the CIF state playoff run she was re-energized and finished averaging 9.9 points and 5.3 rebounds per game after registering a double-double 18 points and 11 rebounds in the state title game victory. Not only was Fonongaloa looking very sluggish, but fellow senior Nevaeh Asiasi was unable to play due to health and safety concerns in the Pride’s 79-64 loss to Danville San Ramon Valley in the CIF North Coast Section Open Division semifinals. She had 11 points, seven rebounds five assists and three steals in the state championship and finished averaging 9.2 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 2.8 steals per game. Both have several D1 offers with interest growing. Sacramento State-signed Kylie Edge had seven points, eight rebounds and four assists against Windward, and averaged 7.6 points per game and led the team with 40 three-pointers
The team’s leading scorer was junior Makiah Asidanya. She had 11 points in the Windward win and averaged 10.4 points per game. Another junior was point guard Sofia Fidelus. She averaged 8.9 points per game and was second on the team with 25 three-pointers. Both Asidanya and Fidelus have offers from Hawaii.
Since 1972, Pezzola is only the fifth State Coach of the Year from the CIF North Coast Section and first since 2013 when Malik McCord of Bishop O’Dowd (Oakland) was honored. Spike Hensley of Berkeley was the first in 1980 with Scott Brown of Moraga Campolindo the 1995 winner. Ron Hirschman of Danville Monte Vista was the 2009 honoree.
Pezzola is the head coach at Salesian but there were other teams in the past involving his family. He and his wife, Twila Foster, herself an accomplished attorney in the East Bay portion of the Bay Area, have two adult children. David Pezzola is a real estate developer in Chicago living with his wife Carolyn and his son, Roman, and Genevieve Pezzola, PhD, who lives in Vicksburg, Mississippi and works for the Engineering Research Development Center of the Army Corps of Engineers.
Not surprisingly, Pezzola coached both of his children along the way.
“I got into coaching basketball when my son was in third-grade and continued through his eighth-grade year,” Pezzola remarked. “I also coached my daughter’s grammar school team from third to eighth-grade. For a few years, it was double duty.”
“I then coached some freshmen high school girls’ basketball for several years and jumped at the chance to coach the varsity girls at my alma mater,” Pezzola continued. “I love being at Salesian and all it represents. I try to build on the Salesian aura by not only trying to provide a great basketball experience but a great life experience to all those in our basketball program. We have some pretty special graduates in all walks of life and I am very proud of them.”
It all started in the 2009-2010 season when Salesian went 19-10 and played in its first CIFNCS playoff game in 10 years. The following season the Pride won their first NCS playoff game in 15 years. By year three the Pride was 31-5 and went to the Division IV state championship and the rest is history. That very first year was the only one in which Pezzola’s teams has had double-digit losses.
Among all the awards and accolades Pezzola was the 2016 Cal-Hi Sports Division IV Coach of the Year but now he’s won the big one.
Congratulations to Stephen Pezzola, the 2022 Cal-Hi Sports State Coach of the Year.
STATE COACHES OF THE YEAR
GIRLS BASKETBALL ALL-TIME LIST
(Selected by Cal-Hi Sports)
2022 – Stephen Pezzola, Richmond Salesian (21-5)
2021 – Martin Woods, Corona Centennial (25-1)
2020 – Vanessa Nygaard, Los Angeles Windward (26-7)
2019 – Alicia Komaki, Chatsworth Sierra Canyon (33-1)
2018 – McKinsey Hadley, Gardena Serra (25-8)
2017 – Craig Campbell, Fresno Clovis West (34-2)
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 Archbishop 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)
Harold Abend is the associate editor of CalHiSports.com and the vice president of the California Prep Sportswriters Association. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter: @HaroldAbend