When legendary Crescenta Valley High softball Coach Dan Berry passed away last October, it was a given that whoever succeeded him at the helm of the Falcons would have huge shoes to fill.
Mark Samford, a longtime basketball coach at the school, took up the challenge on an interim basis and kept the Falcons in the chase for a Pacific League title and back in the CIF Southern Section Division III playoffs.
As a result, Samford was fitted for some more permanent footwear on Tuesday when Crescenta Valley ended its coaching search by officially naming Samford the head man.
"That was one of many factors [in his hiring]," Crescenta Valley Athletic Director Peter Kim said of Samford's keeping the Falcons competitive amid the transition. "We did have a pretty extensive interview process with all the applicants and we feel that we made the right choice to move forward, not only to continue with the tradition of CV softball, but to have confidence in terms of moving forward into a new era."
Under Samford's guidance, the Falcons went 11-3 in league and were a game out of first place behind eventual champion Burroughs as late in the season as May 5 before eventually finishing tied for second with Burbank.
The team went on to make an appearance in the playoffs, where it was defeated, 9-4, in the first round by Sherman Oaks Notre Dame to finish 20-6 overall
"We had a pretty successful year and it wasn't [just] myself," Samford said. "[Assistant] Ashleigh Viers Gordillo was a huge help with the whole year, but I think clearly [the team's success] had an impact on the whole thing.
"The continuity that we had this year went a long way to helping me out."
Samford loses only three seniors and will bring back many of his key players next season, including All-CIF first-team center fielder Hannah Cookson, middle infielder Hailey Cookson and co-captain Jessica Morena.
"Coach Samford is a great coach," Hannah Cookson said. "I'm really glad we have him."
Samford said he is looking forward to building a lasting contender going forward.
"The cupboard is clearly not bare," Samford said. "There's some good kids there, there's some good players, there's some opportunity to get in and compete and have an impact on what goes on in the Pacific League."
Samford said he will continue to serve as a lower level boys' basketball coach at Crescenta Valley, where he also a substitute teacher.
"I don't see that conflicting at all," Samford said. "At the lower levels it's easier because we practice early in the mornings and our game schedule is a little bit different than varsity."