By Brandon HENSLEY
The Crescenta Valley High School varsity softball team will be both talented and experienced enough to compete for a Pacific League championship next spring.
But what’s a team to do if it doesn’t have a coach? Coach Mark Samford resigned in late May for personal reasons, forcing school administration to search for a third head coach since 2011.
That’s now taken care of. The school recently announced that instructor John Pehar would move up from the junior varsity ranks to coach the varsity team for the 2013-14 school year.
Initially, Pehar said he had no intention of doing any coaching, let alone trying to get the varsity spot.
“Not exactly. I wasn’t planning on coaching at all last year,” he said. Pehar, a CVHS teacher who used to coach golf for the school, talked to Samford last year about helping out the softball program. Samford told him he needed a JV coach, and Pehar accepted. The JV girls won 20 games and took the league championship.
After Samford resigned, Pehar said he was unsure about moving up. He said that after he had spoken with a few people, it took him “a couple weeks” for him to say yes.
“He’s going to do a great job,” Samford said. “He’s going to work hard. He’s conscious about what the program means to the school.”
Pehar will bring one of his JV assistants, Doug Ebert, with him to varsity. Tyrasha Peterson and Chris Boone, who were also assistants, will stay with JV, with Peterson taking on the role of head coach.
Pehar said he also has 2001 CV grad Meredith Cervanka on board as a coach. Cervenka went on to become a dominant pitcher for Long Beach State and was inducted into the school’s hall of fame in 2011.
This summer, while Pehar holds a camp on the school’s field, he also has 2009 graduate Kali Cancelosi helping out. Cancelosi was part of the Lady Falcons team that went 29-1 and won three playoff games.
“There might be a place for her,” Pehar said of the possiblity of her joining the staff. Ashleigh Viers-Gordillo, a former Lady Falcon who coached with Samford, is not expected to return.
Samford was the coach for two seasons. He led the team to a 34-18-1 record, including two playoff losses. The Lady Falcons were unable to win a league title, with Burroughs and Burbank being the last two champions.
Samford took over the program following the passing of Dan Berry in October 2011. Under Berry, the Falcons won at least a share of 20 Pacific League titles and captured the 1986 CIF championship.
“I want to be here for several years,” Pehar said. “It’s been a traumatic change of events since Coach Berry passed away, so I want to make sure it’s going in the right direction before I leave.”
Is Pehar feeling the pressure of taking over a storied program?
“No, no pressure, because I’ve known Dan Berry since I was a senior here in high school,” Pehar said. “I spent a lot of time talking to him, watching him. I’m not going to live up to his expectations. I’m not going to touch his win-loss record (570 wins). I’m going to take the good things he did and put a few of my own ideas in there and hopefully make a good program.”
The team should be very good next season. Centerfielder Hannah Cookson was named to the Pacific League first team last season (seven home runs, 34 runs batted in) as well pitcher Olivia Thayer (1.75 earned-run average).
CV finished tied for second place in league with Burroughs and Arcadia, and drew a road game for its opening round of the playoffs, where it lost to La Salle 3-1.
“Our goal is to win a league title this coming year,” Pehar said.
CV has every regular position player coming back except for right field and catcher, as Brady Sanford and Jessica Morena graduated in June. The pitching is set with Thayer and Chloe Fairbrother, who also plays first base. Cookson and her sister Hailey will most likely provide the spark on offense at the top of the lineup.
The team went 14-10 during the 2013 regular season. Samford often bemoaned the lack of plate discipline from his players. Despite the talent on the field, Thayer didn’t get too much help from her defense as CV let 48 unearned runs cross home plate.
If the focus of the team can be adjusted, there’s plenty of reason to expect the Falcons to improve on last year’s standing.
“My philosophy is about enthusiasm,” Pehar said. “You can’t accomplish anything without it.”
“Every time you go up a little it’s always different,” Samford said of the change from JV to varsity. “But [coaching] is not new to him at all. You’re going have to go far to look for someone more dedicated than him.”