Congratulations Coach Steve Pezzola

There may not be a high school coach in any sport, and not only in the North Coast Section, but all of California, with a more interesting and impressive resume as the one of Stephen Pezzola of Salesian in Richmond. 

Pezzola is a highly successful corporate attorney, a head coach of the top team of the Orinda Magic, and the Magic is one of the most successful and long-standing club teams in Northern California, he just completed his tenth year of a very successful career at the Salesian helm, for good measure he became the President of Salesian in 2018, and now for the second time after snagging the award in 2014 Pezzola is the Prep2Prep North Coast Section Coach of the Year. 

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“Thank you to the Prep2Prep team,” Pezzola said when told he had won for a second time. “It means a great deal to receive the Prep2Prep NCS Coach of the Year award. There are many great coaches in the NCS. I value the opinions of Prep2Prep and am thankful for all that it does for high school athletics.” 

In his first three seasons his teams won 19, 24 and 35 games but didn’t win a league title, however since then they have won outright or shared a league championship every season and are currently on a 58-game regular season league game winning streak in that period. 

The 2012 team that won 35 games didn’t win a league championship, but in the NCS playoffs they beat league champion St. Mary’s-Berkeley in the Division III title game for the first of six NCS championships, and then went on to beat St. Mary’s a second time en route to a CIF state Division IV runner-up finish. The 2013 team also made it to the CIF Division III state championship and in that one they lost it at the buzzer to Serra-Gardena. 

In his 10 seasons Pezzola’s team have won at least 20-games nine straight times, 30-games twice, and he has a career 264-70 coaching record. 

The record Pezzola has amassed speaks for itself, but there were several coaches deserving of being honored, including finalist and 2018 winner Malik McCord of Bishop O’Dowd, plus John Cristiano of San Ramon Valley, Monica Mertle of Cardinal Newman and Nadine Walker of St. Patrick-St. Vincent. 

However, it was what his 25-9 team did against the nation’s top teams that was the big difference and the decision maker. 

Salesian was in the top division of the Nike TOC and in their first game they knocked off Centennial-Las Vegas and the only other game the national No. 5 girls from Neva lost was in their final game when they lost to national No. 2 St. John’s Academy of Washington D.C. In their next game they held their own against national No. 1 New Hope Academy (Maryland) in a 41-32 loss. 

From there they went to the West Coast Jamboree and avenged an early season loss to Carondelet but fell in the title game of the Platinum Division to Pinewood-Los Altos Hills just like they did in the CIF Northern Regional Open Division title game, the third time Pezzola and his Pride girls have been in a CIF NorCal title game. 

In between the losses to Pinewood the Pride got a win to go 1-2 against the Panthers, but the biggest win of the season was a 44-41 upset of Archbishop Mitty-San Jose in the NorCal Open semifinals with Mitty nationally-ranked at the time just like they were when Salesian upset them in 2016 in the first round of the CIF Open Division NorCals. 

What made the Archbishop Mitty win even more impressive is during the four years that 2019 Cal-Hi Sports Ms. Basketball and Gatorade State Player of the Year Haley Jones was at Mitty the Monarchs only lost 11 games and two of them were at the hands of Pezzola and his Pride girls 

“Two wins in four years against Haley Jones who only lost 11 games in her high school career is not too shabby,” Pezzola said with pride. 

Another reason the season for Pezzola and his girls was so impressive was the team overcame adversity. 

Prep2Prep North Coast Section Player of the Year and USC-bound Angel Jackson and fellow First Team selection and Hawaii-bound Makayla Edwards were solid all year, although Edwards was sidelined a bit with a broken nose, but senior Nia Chinn, the biggest outside shooting threat of Salesian, went down at the Jamboree, and senior leader and co-captain Bianca Camello was also lost for the season at the Jamboree as well. 

“This year was a difficult year with two of our starters suffering freak season ending injuries at the West Coast Jamboree. We lost our best clutch outside shooter, Nia Chinn, and one of our best leaders, Bianca Camello,” lamented Pezzola. 

Despite coming up a little short against Pinewood in the CIF NorCal Open Division final against Pinewood, it was still a great season for Salesian, and as he has always done in his successful coaching career for Pezzola it’s all about the girls. 

“I was so proud of the team as it played an extremely tough schedule, stuck together, and won its third consecutive Division III NCS crown, this time over a very tough St. Joseph Notre Dame team. Our NorCal Open Division semi-final win over Archbishop Mitty was very special. Mitty was one of the best teams in the nation with the best player in the nation. Our team defense was amazing, and we just had enough offense to win. That win took a lot out of the team emotionally and we fell one game short of the state Open division final.” 

The team fell a tad short of every team’s ultimate goal at the beginning of the season, but Pezzola got the very most out of them so he doesn’t fall short after capturing the 2019 Prep2Prep North Coast Section Coach of the Year.

by Harold Abend