Following Dan Berry isn’t easy, but Mark Samford is up for the job again as he explains his reasons for returning to coach CV softball.
By Brandon HENSLEY
Mark Samford’s decision to stay on as head coach of Crescenta Valley High’s softball team this summer gave the program the stability it needed. Samford accepted taking the reins for one season after legendary coach Dan Berry passed away last fall.
Berry’s shoes were too large to fill by anyone, but the Lady Falcons finished this past year 20-6 and qualified for a wild-card playoff game, which they lost. It was a successful season, but one that left Samford still undecided on whether he wanted to return after the last out was recorded.
A month later, he came around. After being interviewed, along with a handful of other candidates by former assistant principal Mike Bertram and Falcon athletic directors Dave Mendoza and Peter Kim, Samford accepted the position full time, making him a very busy man (he also coaches basketball and football at the school, and is a substitute teacher). Assistant coach Ashleigh Viers-Gordillo is also returning. Under Berry, the Falcons won 20 Pacific League titles, and the 2013 squad will try and capture another one now that some stability has returned.
CV Weekly: Why did you decide to return after all?
Mark Samford: It was a little bit of a tough decision … I was kind of surprised and honored that they would ask me to take the job when Dan died (last October) because it’s a big tradition to take care of, even in a school that has a lot of tradition in general.
As I went and saw the girls and the team and the direction they were headed, I just wanted to maintain the direction they were going. I think that’s really all.
CVW: What was your thought process after the season ended?
MS: They asked if I was interested. They asked one day and I told them, “Give me a few days” and I talked to my wife about it
There was a pool of probably five or six candidates that applied for the job. I went in to the panel there, they asked me some questions, and I answered them, and here I am. Whether it was my job to keep, I never got that feeling. I went into the interview expecting to earn it, that how I conducted myself would carry weight on the decision. Obviously they have some perspective because of the year I had done before, but that wasn’t a particularly realistic view because I came in late [last season]. There had been a lot of work done before.
CVW: Talk about the role Viers-Gordillo plays in the program.
MS: Ashleigh is huge part of what’s going on. She’s a huge help to me because she’s able to step in, and she was a player, so she’s a direct link. Between the two of us, you have Ashleigh who’s only several years removed from playing for Coach Berry so the girls really relate to that, obviously, and that’s a great thing.
Then you got me, who has dealt with the other side, the administrative side, the parental side, those issues that come up away from the field. So I think between the two of us we’re equipped to do a pretty good job for the girls. But that’s clearly one of the things that impacted my decision – Ashleigh coming back. If she were the future of Falcon of softball, I think that’d be a great step … I think there’s a real good coach there in waiting.
CVW: What kind of workouts have you done with the team this summer?
MS: We had about three weeks of conditioning [last month]. We call it a skills clinic. We go over fundamentals and keep the girls busy. We had the new girls come in and get acquainted with the coaches and the program. I think the way softball is now with so much travel ball, I think it’s unrealistic to have a hard core summer program because a lot of your top players are playing all summer anyway.
CVW: What’s the schedule like for next season?
MS: The schedule is something that’s yet to be determined. Especially the way it is now with school starting so early, those spring sports fall really late in the year, so it’s easier to make that transition.
It’s tough, but I hope it’s going to keep me young. It has value to me. I deal with great people: kids, coaching staff, athletic directors.
CVW: Who are some of the key players for next season?
MS: Obviously the Cooksons (Hannah and Hailey) are key. Jessica Morena (catcher), who is going to be a senior, is going to be really key as far as leadership and presence on the field. Our pitching, Chloe Fairbrother and Oliva Thayer … really I think that’s the key. In softball, the better pitching you get, the better team you are. I thought they did a really good job last year and won a lot of games.
There’s a lot of upside with those girls.
Tiffany Briscoe (a sophomore), who played DH for us last year, she can rake, and I think if we can get her comfortable in the environment she’ll be an impact.