Must be something in the water

The top high school coaches from the 2009-10 season were selected by the sportswriters of the Glendale News-Press.

1 Jan Sakonju, Crescenta Valley boys' water polo and boys' swimming: After winning two league titles and a CIF crown in 2008-09, Sakonju entered the past season as the reigning News-Press Coach of the Year and retained that distinction with another outstanding year for both of his teams.

The Falcons boys' water polo team was undefeated in its Pacific League title defense, which came down to a come-from-behind overtime win over Glendale in the league tournament.

Under Sakonju's guidance, the Falcons kept their heads and their crown despite an aggressive, physical challenge from the hungry Nitros.

The team (20-9) went on to return to the CIF Southern Section Division VI semifinals, where it was defeated by the same Rio Mesa squad it played in the previous year's title match.

"That was definitely a challenge," Sakonju said. "We had a team that was deservedly in the top four and had a potential to be the champion, but you do get that pressure and that expectation and plus every team that you face is going to bring their A-game whether that be in the division or in league.

"But, as a coach, I think it's a great situation because it's a learning experience for the boys to be able to face opponents that always take you seriously and are looking to beat you as a measure of their own success."

Sakonju's greatest success came in the spring, when his boys' swimming team also sped through the Pacific League unchallenged, claiming the program's 18th straight league crown, capped by a 592-point bonanza at the league final meet.

"The league championship meet has always got that great competitive atmosphere and as a coach it's definitely one of the highlights of the year," Sakonju said. "So many guys are excited and focused and the competitiveness really shines at those big meets."

At the Division II finals, no team came closer to challenging juggernaut Oaks Christian than the Falcons, who jumped up five spots from their finish the previous season to take second place. And, for the second straight season, Sakonju's year ended by coaching a large group at the CIF Masters Meet.

"Everybody had an important role to play in both the league championship and the CIF [finals]," Sakonju said. "To see them come together and push each other and support one another is really what coaching is about – to have a group of guys that have that positive attitude and competitiveness."

Sakonju was named All-Area Boys' Swimming Coach of the Year for his accomplishments.

2 Forest Holbrook, Glendale boys' and girls' water polo and boys' and girls' swimming: While new to the area high school scene, Holbrook wasted no time rolling up his sleeves and getting busy as the head of the entire Nitros aquatics program.

In the fall, he led the boys' water polo team (20-7) to a second-place finish in the Pacific League and on a surprising run to the Division VI semifinals, where they put quite a scare into eventual champion Webb in an 18-14 overtime loss. It marked only the second time in program history that the boys' water pole team at Glendale reached the semifinals and resulted in Holbrook being named the All-Area and Pacific League boys' water polo coach of the year.

Then, in the winter, Holbrook succeeded in getting the girls' water polo team (16-13) to finish third in league and into the Division IV playoffs after beating Santa Ynez in a wild-card match. It came a season after the Nitros had failed to even make the postseason.

Holbrook also made strides toward building both swimming programs and making them more competitive in dual meets. Two of his swimmers, senior Katalina Sher and sophomore Mickey Mowry, won Pacific League titles and competed in the Division II finals. Mowry made it to the Masters Meet.

3 Sean Beattie, Flintridge Prep boys' and girls' volleyball: In what some assumed would be a rebuilding year, the boys' volleyball team (16-8) enjoyed one of its better seasons, claiming a share of its first Prep League title since 2003 and making it back to the Division V second round.

Once again, Beattie, who also assisted the girls' soccer team, was able to smoothly transition younger players into starting roles and wasn't afraid to move established players into new roles, as he successfully did with libero-turned-All-CIF hitter Edmund Chow.

In the fall, Beattie led the girls' volleyball team to a 13-9 mark, a huge turnaround from 5-13 the previous season, and back to the Division III-A playoffs for the first time since 2005.

4 Esteban Chavez, Flintridge Prep boys' and girls' soccer: Chavez was a busy man this winter, as he juggled two programs during simultaneous seasons.

With three of his best girls' players sidelined for various reasons to start the season, Chavez' Rebels still opened the season a surprising 8-1 and ended up going 13-4-1 and winning a share of the program's first Prep League title since 2001 and making a second straight Division III playoff appearance.

The Rebels had huge league wins over Chadwick and Pasadena Poly and lost, 2-1, to eventual state champion Flintridge Sacred Heart early in the year.

Chavez was named All-Area Girls' Soccer Coach of the Year for his accomplishments. (Editor's Note: Chavez was indeed voted All-Area Girls' Soccer Coach of the Year, but due to a staff error, a write-up never appeared in the paper.)

5 Frank Pace and Kathy Desmond, Flintridge Sacred Heart soccer: Pace and Desmond oversaw the greatest season in Tologs' program history, one that saw the team (22-1-4) finish second in the tough Mission League, reach the semifinals of the Division II playoffs and ultimately capture the program's first-ever Southern California Regional Division III championship.

Others receiving votes: Jim Bonds, St. Francis football; Eddie Gorton, Flintridge Sacred Heart track and field.

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