Another milestone nears

Shelly Luth rolled her eyes when the subject was brought up, then looked around the Marina softball diamond, as if trying to find out how the information leaked out.

Despite her good-natured kidding, there was a definitely twinkle in her eye as she playfully sought out the culprit. Her team, and assistant coaches, had already scattered to all ends of the field following a home nonleague win over Kennedy. It was too late.

It was the same type of twinkle Luth possesses any time she's on the playing field, where she's fully immersed in what's taking place, be it practice or a game. It's truly a place where she feels right at home.

The Queen of the Diamond — well, in longevity terms among the six Sunset League coaches — is in her 20th year as head coach of the Marina softball program. As season No. 20 approaches its midway point, Luth is only a few wins shy of attaining a watershed moment: 400 career victories.

When asked about it, Luth, who likes to maintain a low-profile away from the playing field, didn't brush aside the impending milestone. She had only intended it go unnoticed.

Assistant coach Michelle Spencer thought otherwise.

It was Spencer, as Luth found out, who had let the news slip.

"Shelly is very passionate about Marina softball," said Spencer, who also is the girls' athletic director and teaches math at Marina. "These kids are like her own and she works hard to get the best out of them, both on and off the field. She prides herself in having not only fundamentally sound teams, but teams that make Marina High School proud. When we, as athletic directors, point out the way to run a program, we generally point to Shelly's program.

"Shelly is one of the most intense people I know when she steps onto the field. In 14 years of being her assistant, the intensity has not died down, at all. Being her assistant has been a lot of fun. We have accomplished a lot, won a lot, but most of all, enjoyed the ride. We have become the best of friends and it will sad when this journey ends someday."

Although she might not have wanted the fanfare surrounding No. 400, nothing Luth has done with the Marina program has gone unnoticed. Throughout the years, she, her staff and the players that have been the face of Vikings softball, have contributed to Marina being a well-respected program that is a perennial league and CIF contender.

"Marina has always had a successful program and I feel very honored to be a part of the winning tradition," Luth said. "I have also been very fortunate to have had some great talent and coaches come through the program."

Luth's coaching record heading into Friday's Sunset League opener at Huntington Beach is 397-223-3. That third tie happened just last weekend at the Faster to First Tournament, where the Vikings played Ursuline (New Rochelle, N.Y.) to a 2-2 standstill at the Huntington Beach Sports Complex. Spencer said that Luth achieved her 300th win on April 22, 2006.

Win No. 400 could come soon. In the coming week, starting with Friday's game at Huntington, the Vikings play four times.

A Huntington Beach resident since age 7, Luth prepped at Edison (Class of 1976) and was named the school's Female Athlete of the Year her senior year. She started out in 1984 as an assistant coach at Marina and spent seven years in that role under then-Coach Susie Calderon. During that time, Marina claimed four league championships and won a CIF title. She succeeded Calderon as head coach in 1991. In her 20 years at the helm, Luth's teams have won eight league crowns and twice been CIF champion.

Luth started at Marina as a coach and campus supervisor, then became the girls' athletic director when Larry Doyle passed away in 1999. During her time as athletic director, she got her credential in physical education and has been teaching physical education for seven years.

Through the years, her zeal for the game — and coaching — hasn't waned.

"I am a competitive and passionate person by nature, but at the time (becoming head coach), I had no idea how addictive it would be," Luth said. "I think my commitment and passion grew when I began teaching. Seeing the students on campus, understanding their perspective, appreciating the high school culture, has helped me be a better coach."

Senior Jamie Sullivan, starting second baseman for the Vikings, appreciates what Luth has taught.

"Everything is positive and everything we do has meaning, has a reason," said Sullivan, a two-year first-team all-league player who will play on scholarship next year at the University of Oregon. "We put in hard work at practice. It all starts with fundamentals, every day, and we go from there. Coach is very competitive and we work hard, but it's great."

Former player Krystal Heinle, who played four years for Luth and now helps out as an assistant with the Marina pitchers and infielders, recalled seeing that intensity.

"She really cares so much for these girls," said Heinle, a pitcher who in her senior year was named first-team All-CIF Division 1. "I remember as a student thinking she's really intense. She is and she's a good coach and a good, all-around person. She does a great job of staying in touch with players after they leave school. She's really like part of my family.

"She won her 300th game during my senior year and I think it's pretty cool that I'm back here, helping out with the team when she can win her 400th game."

During her time at Marina, two of Luth's sons, Jared, 24, and Shane, 21, both were multi-sport athletes at the school and Shane was the Male Athlete of the Year in 2008. She said son Luke, 5, will be a future Viking.

Luth and the Vikings begin their quest for a repeat league title Friday. When the 2011 season is complete, she said she plans to keep moving forward, beyond year No. 20.

"Honestly, I still enjoy coaching," she said. "As long as I can contribute to the game, to the players, I would like to continue coaching. I don't know how long that will be. I love the game and when that passion is gone, I will be done.

"I would like to thank all the people who have been involved with the success of Marina softball. It has been a fantastic 20 years."

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