Southern California is arguably the biggest hotbed for high school girls basketball talent in the country, and the bulk of it comes from the CIF Southern Section. The CIFSS is also home to many of the best high school girls basketball coaches in the nation.
With the 2019-20 season wrapped up, here's a look at 10 CIFSS girls basketball coaches who stood out for their excellent work. All 10 deserve to be in the conversation for Coach of the Year. The list is in alphabetical order of schools.
Corona Centennial – Martin Woods
The best Cen10 girls basketball team in recent history, the Huskies went from a second-round playoff exit in the Division 1 playoffs to one bucket away from the Open Division finals. Last year's squad was young and unquestionably up-and-coming, but when star C/F Jessica Peterson transferred out, the odds of them taking such a big leap plummeted.
Opponents loaded up on star G Jayda Curry all season from day one, but Woods was a step ahead of them. Behind Curry's 22.4 PPG, Centennial's second-leading scorer, freshman Sydni Sanders, was the only other Husky averaging double-figures with 10.3 PPG. Even still, with Centennial's creative offense, their scoring held up against the best defenses in the country.
In addition to Centennial going 26-6, they avenged two of their six losses by beating rival King and Long Beach Poly their second times against them after dropping the first meetings. Their only other losses came to other national elites in Etiwanda (twice), New Hope Academy (MD), and Windward.
Fairmont Prep – Sara Brown
In her first year as head coach of the Huskies, Brown took Fairmont Prep from 14-14 with a first-round playoff exit to 25-8, the final minutes of the sectional championship game, and a CIF Division I playoff birth where they took West to double-overtime. To be clear, Fairmont Prep was in the Southern Section's Division 1 last year and 2-AA this year. But knocking off the likes of Saugus and Marlborough on that playoff run–in addition to the state Division I playoff appearance–easily confirms how much better they were this season.
Harvard-Westlake – Melissa Hearlihy
It's not uncommon that coaches of elite high school contenders schedule a bunch of brutal draws to start the season, drop most or all of them, and regret it from there on out. Harvard-Westlake started the year with four straight losses against Bishop Montgomery, Sierra Canyon, Lynwood, and Windward–the first three all coming down to the wire–and was in grave danger of falling to 0-6 with West and Troy on deck.
But instead of spiraling downwards, they took the resilient path and never slowed down, despite being almost entirely devoid of upperclassmen experience in their rotation. The Wolverines bounced back to beat West in a nail-biter and defeat Troy as well en-route to going 25-5 for the rest of the season plus postseason. They took a double-digit loss to Marlborough in their first round of league play and had to edge out Chaminade in close games twice and avenge the loss against Marlborough to win the Mission League.
H-W was on such a roll come playoff time that they beat Huntington Beach, Rolling Hills Prep, and both West and Troy again on their way to a Division 1 title–all by double-digits with an average margin of 19 points per game. Finally, they also beat North and Marlborough (again) by double-digits before Cathedral Catholic edged them out in the state Division I regional semifinals.
Long Beach Poly – Carl Buggs
Did someone forget to tell Poly that this wasn't supposed to be their year to contend for an Open Division sectional and state championship? With a few key seniors gone and a Southern Region Division 1 quarterfinals exit last year, there just didn't seem to be any reason to expect a big jump from last year, despite a lot of young talent returning. Instead, Poly, a top-10 defensive team in the country by the numbers, found themselves just a few points away from the CIF Open Division Southern Region title game. Highlights of their season included handing Mater Dei two of their three losses on the season and giving the top-ranked team in the country, La Jolla Country Day, their only loss all year.
Not only did Poly have a next-level defense and a knack for rebounding for a team without overwhelming size, but they also got it done offensively with their leading scorer at under 12 PPG and nobody else averaging double-figures. What they achieved with all these potential downfalls on paper was unbelievable.