Coach of the Year: Lutzenhiser leaves on top

Mark Lutzenhiser guided South Kitsap High School’s girls basketball team to its first 20-win season in a decade in 2010-11. - File photo
Mark Lutzenhiser guided South Kitsap High School’s girls basketball team to its first 20-win season in a decade in 2010-11.
— image credit: File photo

Past recipients
2010: Chad Nass
2009: Michael Krug
2008: Jim Fairweather
2007: Chad Nass
2006: Eric Bergeson
2005: John Callaghan
2004: Eric Bergeson

When he was hired as coach in 2008, the stands were filled with small pockets of maroon-clad fans.

By the time he resigned from his position in April for personal reasons, South Kitsap’s girls basketball program had a following.

In a year when many of the school’s programs struggled, Mark Lutzenhiser guided the Wolves to their first 20-win season in a decade.

South also was just a 3-pointer away — it missed two opportunities in the final seconds of a 43-40 loss against Bellarmine Prep — from possibly advancing to the third round of the Class 4A state tournament for only the third time in program history.

In addition, several players — wing Ali Davis and post Taylor Sunkel, in particular — showed dramatic improvement during the season.

For those reasons, Lutzenhiser is the Port Orchard Independent’s Coach of the Year.

The Wolves struggled in the seasons leading up to Lutzenhiser’s arrival — they had not posted a winning record since finishing 11-10 in 2004-05 — but he attributed much of his success to the program’s talent. Lutzenhiser compiled a 52-27 record and two state-playoff appearances in three seasons at the school. Each of those years included Kelsey Callaghan starting at point guard.

“When you can have someone who can handle the ball that well and get it to people, it makes it that much easier,” Lutzenhiser said. “Especially as the coach.”

While last season was his most successful with South, Lutzenhiser said that stemmed from the momentum the Wolves established in 2008-09. After a blowout loss against perennial state-power Auburn Riverside in the West Central District Tournament, South won three consecutive loser-out games to advance to state.

“That first year was just an incredible run,” Lutzenhiser said. “It really just came down to their will was bigger than who they played.”

He said that began to translate into increased participation. Lutzenhiser said there never were more than 20 girls who participated in offseason workouts in his first season. He said those numbers increased by 20 in each of the following seasons.

Lutzenhiser said having players committed to the offseason program was significant to their success.

“Ali and Taylor did a lot in the offseason to improve their games,” he said. “Those two were just over the top.”

Combine that with staying fairly healthy — South lost several key contributors in 2009-10, including center Molly Werder, who was limited by a knee injury after leading the team in scoring the previous season — and the Wolves lost only three regular-season games. Two of those setbacks came when Callaghan sat out with a knee injury in late December.

While the team was talented, Davis said Lutzenhiser deserves some credit for South’s success.

“We got along with him personally, but on the court it was strictly business,” Davis said. “He’s a really good coach.”

In addition to ending a long state-playoff drought at South, Lutzenhiser also guided Bellingham and Wenatchee to that point for the first time in the history of both schools. When athletic director Ed Santos announced Lutzenhiser’s hiring, he cited that success as one of the factors behind hiring him.

“I’m just so thankful for the opportunity to come here,” Lutzenhiser said. “To me it’s about teaching kids and helping them to improve and move on after high school.”

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