State Coach of the Year: Anna Almeida

Emmi Almeida (left) had 21 points for Caruthers in the CIF D3 state final, Joie Almeida (center) is only 10 but already knows how lucky she is, and at right is the 2024 State Coach of the Year. Photo: Mark Tennis.

The highest girls hoops coaching honor in California, the one that now goes back 53 years, lands in the small town of Caruthers. It can be difficult to build a hugely successful program in a place like that, but it came together for 20-year head coach Anna Almeida with a CIF state title. She won a CIF state title for the second time in her career, but this time with a family twist.

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It’s a rare occurrence when a head coach from a team other than in the Open Division or Division I is named State Coach of the Year.

In fact, since the state CIF went to competitive equity for seeding the state basketball championships and established an Open Division in 2013, only one coach not in the Open or D1 divisions has won the award.

That all just changed this year because Anna Almeida of CIF Division III state champion Caruthers has been named the 2024 Cal-Hi Sports State Coach of the Year.

“Oh…my…gosh, are you being serious? I’m so honored I’m about to cry,” was the reaction of Almeida when she was contacted while in Texas this week visiting her brother on spring break and told she was the winner.

The last non Open or D1 coach to win was in 2016 when Mark Lehman of San Bernardino Cajon was honored. The last Division III coach to be named State Coach of the Year was in 2005 when Richard Wiard of Bishop Amat (La Puente) was chosen, but that was prior to competitive equity.

Almeida is shown coaching above during Caruthers’ run to the 2019 CIF D5 state title. Photo: Juan Esparza Loera /

Almeida also is only the fourth coach from the CIF Central Section to be honored since Cal-Hi Sports began naming a State Coach of the Year in the early 1980s for girls basketball. The list was later extended back to 1972 with retroactive selections based on research by Cal-Hi Sports founder Nelson Tennis. The first is for 1973 for Mary Brown of Fresno San Joaquin Memorial. Dwayne Tubbs of Hanford was the second winner from “The Valley” as the locals affectionately call the Central Section. Tubbs was the 2001 recipient. The most recent winner prior to Almeida from the Central Section was a name she knew when asked if she could guess who it was, and she was correct when she said Clovis West head coach Craig Campbell, the 2017 honoree.

Besides Campbell, when some of the other names of the winners were mentioned like 2023 recipient Stan Delus of Etiwanda, 2019 winner Alicia Komaki of Chatsworth Sierra Canyon, 2012 winner Terri Bamford of La Jolla Country Day, 2003 honoree and all-time winningest coach Kevin Kiernan, now of Santa Ana Mater Dei and then at Fullerton Troy, and 1999 recipient Sue Phillips of San Jose Archbishop Mitty, there was momentary silence on the other end of the call.

“You’re making my heart race,” Almeida said. “Those coaches are legendary. It’s crazy for me and tiny Caruthers to be even mentioned in the same breath with those coaches.

“You have no idea how much I have idolized these coaches. Having watched them work, having envied to be in their position, I cannot believe you guys gave me this award. It is truly unimaginable in my mind to be worthy of this.” Almeida continued. “When I first started coaching I just wanted to be better. Never, ever did I think this would be possible. Those people on that list are truly famous and legends in my book.”

The reason Almeida now has her name etched alongside the greatest coaches in state history is because she took a team from a small Central Valley town, and from a public school with an enrollment of around 650, up against a charter school with one of the state’s largest enrollments of around 4,600 students, and the Blue Raiders defeated Granada Hills Charter in the CIF Division III state championship, 54-48, earlier this month at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento.

It was the second state championship for Almeida and Caruthers but unlike 2019 when they were one of the top seeds in Division V and went on to rout Riverside Ramona 62-38 in the D5 title game, this year the Blue Raiders literally came out of the blue.

Despite being placed in the CIF Central Section Division I playoffs and only given the No. 10 seed, Caruthers punched its ticket to the CIF Regional playoffs when they went into No. 7 seed Arroyo Grande and came away with a solid 50-36 victory. The girls then gave St. Joseph (Santa Maria) a tussle before falling 69-52 in the second round.

For the state playoffs, the Blue Raiders fared worse in the seedings than they did in the Central Section. It wasn’t the CIF placing the small school in D3 that was questionable (after all the team was in the D3 regional final the year before) it was giving the Blue Raiders a No. 14 seed (and thus all road games).

No problem as Almeida and her Blue Raiders’ girls, including her daughter, sophomore Emmi Almeida, made a mockery of the seedings and put on a lot miles traveling in doing it.

First, Caruthers traveled to Gilroy where it could have been a huge underdog to third-seeded Christopher, but instead the Blue Raiders routed the hosts in an 85-52 victory. Next was a trip to Brentwood and a match-up with a No. 11 seed Heritage, a school with nearly 3,000 students, and it was close but Caruthers pulled out a 44-40 victory.

The Heritage win sent the Blue Raiders up against No. 2 seed and defending CIF Division II state champion Fresno Central, a team that was the No. 4 seed in the Central Section D1 playoffs and made it to the semifinals before falling to Clovis West of Fresno. It was a tight, defensive battle, but Almeida and her girls squeaked by in a 36-34 victory that got Caruthers into the Northern Regional Division III title game against top-seeded University of San Francisco.

That game was played at historic Kezar Pavilion, but the venue, the fanfare, and the fact tiny Caruthers was an underdog again didn’t faze the young Blue Raiders after they fought off University down to the wire and came away with 58-55 victory.

Because of the disparity of size between Caruthers and Granada Hills Charter, and the fact it was a No. 14 seed going up against a Southern Regional No. 5 seed, once again the Blue Raiders were considered underdogs by many (we picked them to win, though). Just like the first time in an NBA arena, a second trip to Golden 1 Center saw Anna’s girls take charge right from the beginning.

With eight straight points in the third quarter by herself, Emmi led Caruthers with 21 points and nine rebounds, plus six assists. Senior Gizelle Aguirre hit three three-pointers and finished with 14 points and seven rebounds. Jaylee Moore, a 6-foot-1 Caruthers power forward, finished with nine points, four rebounds and four assists.

This photo looks like it may from around 2018. Anna is with Gizelle Aguirre (senior on this year’s team) along with daughter Joie (below) and Emmi (at right). Photo:

Coach Almeida, a home grown 1999 graduate of Caruthers where she starred on the basketball team before going to the play at nearby Reedley College, started having success at her alma mater as a head coach not long after that.

Shortly after college, she took the helm at Caruthers and in 19 seasons beginning in 2005, Almeida has compiled a 390-171 career coaching record, has won 11 conference championships, and has amassed a 111-game conference winning streak which according to the Cal-Hi Sports Online Record Book ranks No. 10 all time and No. 6 among active leaders for consecutive league wins. She’s also won five CIF Central Section titles in 2015, 2016, 2019 and 2022, and the two state championships.

When asked to compare the 2019 team and this year’s state championship squad, Almeida had this to say.

“Our journey in 2019 was different. We had three home games and hit the road for two. This year it was all road all of the playoffs” Almeida remarked. “For the girls to accomplish a mission that seemed potentially impossible based off of seedings, and then bring home the state championship is just different than in 2019, where it felt like a huge dream too, but in a calmer way.

“To be able to finish the mission this year is truly unbelievable, but the best part is we did it when people should have been betting against us with our No. 14 seed,” Almeida continued. “Both championships are remarkable for our town, but this one feels different because the chances of us pulling it off were not considered likely.”

To win an honor like State Coach of the Year, and to also capture a state championship with your daughter on the team? It doesn’t get any better than that.

“To be able to coach my daughter every year has been rewarding, but to be able to coach her on the biggest stage in the state of California was nerve wracking, but yet so rewarding,” Almeida said. “Part of being a parent and coach is that you want them to be successful so nerves are involved, but at the end of the day I am the coach so I have to make sure Emmi is just a player. The best feeling was to hug and kiss my daughter after the game. Not my player, but my daughter. It was an epic feeling.”

Besides 16-year old Emmi, Almeida has two other children. Landon is 19 years old and plays tight end at Reedley College, and according to mom/coach 10-year old Joie plays basketball and is a point guard just like her big sister Emmi.

The 25-8 season not only ended in a state championship for Caruthers but also allowed the Blue Raiders to snag the No. 40 and final spot in the Cal-Hi Sports Final Expanded Rankings.

The good news for Caruthers fans is the young team returns every major contributor except Aguirre and one other senior. The top returners are Emmi Almeida at 11.9 points, 6.7 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game, and Moore who averaged 13.7 points and 7.8 rebounds per game.

Caruthers may have snuck up on the field and snagged a state championship in the process, but in the world of small town, small school girls high school basketball in California, the Blue Raiders are becoming a bit of a legend, and so is their head coach who now gets to join the list of many coaching icons she’s idolized for so long.

(Selected by Cal-Hi Sports)

Stan Delus is shown coaching for Etiwanda during 2022 season. His team repeated as CIF Open Division state champions in 2023, but no one has ever been named State Coach of the Year more than once. Photo:

2024 – Anna Almeida, Caruthers (25-8)
2023 – Stan Delus, Etiwanda (32-3)
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 and the vice president of the California Prep Sportswriters Association. He can be reached at Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter: @HaroldAbend

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