Winning the CIF SoCal D1 championship just two weeks after winning his 400th career game is all that’s needed for Poway’s Jim Bennet to earn State Coach of the Year honors for the 2023 season. Despite many successful seasons from 2003 to 2019, Bennet had to guide the program to major success after the COVID pandemic helped cause a horrendous 5-24 season in 2021.
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Honoring a State Coach of the Year from the same CIF section two years in a row is not generally what is preferred in the long history of the Cal-Hi Sports State Coach of the Year recognition program that has been going on for more than 30 years and has an all-time list of winners since 1974.
But there are years in which it just can’t be avoided. That was the case this year as Poway’s Jim Bennet not only has a state record book qualifying career win total (more than 400 wins), not only coached one of the state’s best teams, but also has a comeback story to go with it.
Bennet, who has been the head coach at Poway since the 2003 season, follows Chula Vista Mater Dei Catholic’s Mike Centrullo from last season as the State Coach of the Year.
Centrullo became the seventh coach in CIF San Diego Section history to gain a spot on the all-time state list of honorees. The others have been Margaret Mauro of Cathedral Catholic for 2014, Brad Griffith of Mira Mesa for 2002, Nancy Acerrio from Hilltop of Chula Vista for 1996, Jeff Carlovsky of Escondido for 1992, Carol Hamilton of Madison for 1983 and Janet Balsley of Hilltop for 1976.
“I’m honored that you have selected me as Coach of the Year,” Bennet said via text on Saturday.
“I’m extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to coach so many great kids over the years and have always had awesome assistants.
“This year was quite special. We had 9 girls that were on the 2021 team who had a huge impact on our turn around. I was so proud and happy for them.”
When Bennet took over the program in 2003, it was just after the Titans had won the top divisional title in the CIF San Diego Section. They won the next one under Bennet in 2015 and last month captured their second one under his guidance. In the team’s first playoff win (8-1 over San Marcos), Bennet also achieved his 400th win. The Titans won the section crown with a 4-3 win in eight innings over a Rancho Bernardo (San Diego) squad that they had been in a battle with over the top ranking in the section for most of the season.
In the CIF Southern California D1 regional playoffs, Poway was the top seed mainly because of numerous opt outs from CIF Southern Section teams such as Pacifica of Garden Grove, Norco, Los Alamitos and Murrieta Mesa of Murrieta. Still, the Titans took on CIFSS D1 semifinalist Oaks Christian of Westlake Village in the final and shut out the Lions, 1-0.
Sophomore Mya McGowan, who hit her 10th homer of the season in the semifinals vs Torrance, pitched a one-hitter against Oaks Christian, despite facing a lineup that had hit 68 homers coming into the game (state record). Miah Garcia had an RBI double in the third inning that stood up as the game’s only run. In the final state rankings, Poway moved up into the top 10 in front of Oaks Christian and finished No. 8 at 29-3.
Entering next season, Bennet also will have a 407-212-1 record for his career. It takes 400 wins for a coach to be added to the all-time state list and that will be done for the Cal-Hi Sports records within the next two weeks when the entire list is updated through the 2023 season.
All of the excitement for the win over Oaks Christian was enhanced by what several seniors and juniors had to go through along with their coach in the 2021 season. With a roster that was decimated by graduation from a 2020 squad that was expected to be among the best in the section but got wiped out by COVID, the Titans had a rough time with a young team when they came back in 2021. The final record was 5-24.
With players like Garcia and senior Hailey Burns, who scored the only run in the SoCal title game, Poway came back for a 20-11-1 season last year.
“The whole time we looked to where we wanted to be, and that’s in the Open Division, where we live,” Bennet told the San Diego Union-Tribune in a playoff preview article on May 22. “We went to work every day trying to do whatever it took to get back to Division I because you can’t be in the Open unless you’re playing in Division I. I tried to coach and play the same way we did when we were winning 20 games a season.”
Bennet was a worker at the San Diego airport in the early 1990s when he began to substitute teach in the Poway Unified School District. That led to a job as a PE teacher at Meadowbrook Middle School from 1996 until Bennet retired from teaching in 2011. He began coaching in the softball program in 1995 with the freshman team under previous head coach Jeff Lusk, who has been back working with Bennet as an assistant since he retired in 2014. Bennet also has worked in the Poway High athletic department as an assistant to girls basketball head coach Jay Trousdale for 26 years until Trousdale retired after the 2022 season. Trousdale is the winningest head coach in section history with 725 wins and also is sixth in state history. In the fall in recent years, Bennet also has stayed busy coaching Poway’s girls golf team. He did that from 2010 to 2022.
Among the players that Bennet has coached at Poway have been Haley Steele (Arizona State), Sydney Steele (Stanford), Malia Martinez (Arizona) and Colleen Sullivan (UCLA).
Along with Lusk, Bennet also is assisted by pitching and catching coach Lauren Hall.
All-Time List Cal-Hi Sports
State Softball Coaches Of The Year
2023 – Jim Bennet, Poway (29-3)
2022 – Mike Centrullo,
Chula Vista Mater Dei Catholic (22-11)
2021 – Ed Tunstall, Anaheim Esperanza (22-2*)
2020 – No selection (pandemic)
2019 – Matt Sweeney, Pleasanton Foothill (28-0)
2018 – Teresa Mayes-Borchard,
Pleasanton Amador Valley (23-5-1)
2017 – Mike Noel, Clovis (25-6)
2016 – Judy Shaubach, Madera (26-7)
2015 – Margaret Neill, Lancaster Paraclete (27-4)
2014 – Margaret Mauro,
San Diego Cathedral Catholic (29-3)
2013 – Mike Smith, Chino (26-2)
2012 – Rick Robinson, Norco (30-2)
2011 – Scott Smith, Hollister San Benito (29-1)
2010 – Teri Johnson, Union City James Logan
2009 – Tony Dobra, San Pedro (28-4)
2008 – Duane Zauner,
Lake of the Pines Bear River (29-3)
2007 – Mary Jo Truesdale, Sacramento Sheldon (29-1)
2006 – John Perez, Corona Santiago (26-5)
2005 – Art Banks, Roseville Woodcreek (28-6)
2004 – Pete Ackermann, Westlake Village Oaks Christian (34-1)
2003 – Rob Weil, Garden Grove Pacifica (31-2)
2002 – Brad Griffith, San Diego Mira Mesa (35-1)
2001 – Gary Walin, Thousand Oaks (24-5)
2000 – Jo Ann Byrd, Corona (28-4)
1999 – Jim Liggett, Belmont Carlmont (35-4)
1998 – Joe Given, Salinas Notre Dame (30-2-1)
1997 – Alan Dugard, Irvine Woodbridge (34-2)
1996 – Nancy Acerrio, Chula Vista Hilltop (27-2)
1995 – Marie Dean, Fremont Washington (27-0)
1994 – Joe Gonzalez, Tustin Foothill (25-7)
1993 – Jill Matyuch, Covina Charter Oak (29-0-1)
1992 – Jeff Carlovsky, Escondido (26-2)
1991 – Kevin Newman, San Jose Gunderson (33-2)
1990 – Susie Calderon, Huntington Beach Marina (28-5)
1989 – Sharon Coggins, Ventura Buena (28-2)
1988 – Rich Kerr, San Lorenzo Arroyo (29-1)
1987 – Bob Regpala, Stockton Lincoln (30-0)
1986 – Dick Barnes, El Monte Arroyo (22-1)
1985 – Neils Ludlow, Woodland Hills El Camino Real (19-0)
1984 – Aaron Ishikawa, Stockton Lincoln (37-1)
1983 – Carol Hamilton, San Diego Madison (23-1)
1982 – Rich Spiekerman, Lodi (29-3)
1981 – Leslie Steffen, Hanford (20-4)
1980 – Bob Bush, Santa Maria Righetti (29-0)
1979 – Barbara Weding, Santa Rosa Montgomery (26-1)
1978 – Peggy Linville, Fairfield Armijo (23-0)
1977 – Betsy Ward, Huntington Beach Marina (17-0)
1976 – Janet Balsley, Chula Vista Hilltop (17-0)
1975 – Sally Carmen, Downey Warren (19-1)
1974 – Sandi Behrmann, El Segundo (undefeated)