In the hallway outside Valencia High’s gymnasium, after a 16-point loss to rival Canyon High on Feb. 3, Jerry Mike’s stare was blank, but his words held more weight than he knew.
“We’ll be fine,” he said.
Fine? The Vikings had just been outscored by 20 points in the second half. They’d just lost a home Foothill League game for the first time since 2013. They’d just cost themselves the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye or home game in the CIF-Southern Section Division 1AA playoffs.
Still, Mike, in his 18th season with the program, was only concerned with the next day’s practice.
“We’re back to the drawing board tomorrow,” he said.
It’d be hard to draw up a better ending than the one the Vikings – headlined by a quartet of four-year varsity players – wrote en route to Mike earning The Signal’s Coach of the Year award.
Valencia closed out the regular season as co-Foothill League champions, its fifth straight crown.
The Vikings then went on the road for the first two rounds of the D1AA playoffs, routing Canyon of Anaheim and West Torrance.
They knocked of Los Alamitos in the quarterfinals, Oaks Christian of Westlake Village in the semis and rival Canyon in a rematch for the championship.
“I thought on a scale of one to five, it was a five. Extraordinary,” said Valencia Athletic Director Brian Stiman of the job Mike did this season.
“I think it’s more difficult to be successful and to complete the lofty goals everyone has for you than it is coming from behind where the expectations aren’t very high,” Stiman said. “Certainly the expectations were high for him coming into this season.”
That was, in part, because talented Valencia teams had lost in the quarterfinals in 2015 and 2016. With Kayla Konrad, Ashlee Ane, Jade Jordan and Kenadee Honaker returning for their senior seasons, there certainly was pressure to make the most of it.
Mike’s focus, though, remained preparation.
Asked about Mike, Viking players recounted the hours their coach put in before and after practice breaking down game film and making sure the team was ready for whatever was thrown at them.
In the CIF final against Canyon, the Vikings played more man-to-man defense than they had all season and limited the Cowboys to 19 fewer points than in the teams’ previous meeting.
“He does really care about all us girls,” Honaker said. “The amount of time he puts into the team is insane. People don’t realize it.”
Inside the Ballot Box
Past Coaches of the Year
2015-16 — Rene Paragas (Saugus)
2014-15 — Jim Ozella (Hart) and Annie Kellogg (Valencia)
2013-14 — Rene Paragas (Saugus)
2012-13 — Rene Paragas (Saugus)
2011-12 — Rob and Chris Evans (Golden Valley)
2010-11 — Rene Paragas (Saugus)
2009-10 — Rene Paragas (Saugus)
2008-09 — Rene Paragas (Saugus)
2007-08 — No award given
2006-07 — Harry Welch (Canyon)