Mark Lewis was named the 2013-14 Orange County girls’ basketball coach of the year after leading Laguna Beach High to second place in the Orange Coast League and a first round CIF post-season victory. The team’s eight league wins this season is a school record.
Lewis’ first team three years ago went 0-18. Each of his last two won a school record 19, giving him 38 total wins in three seasons, the most by any coach in program history. “It is gratifying that the Orange County basketball community recognizes the hard work and dedication it takes to build a program from literally nothing,” Lewis said. “I think receiving this award recognizes this effort and our accomplishments to date.”
In only its second year in existence, the coach of the year award is given out by the Orange Coast Optimist Club, the same organization that has been staging Orange County’s North-South High School All Star game for the past 49 years.
Representatives from each of the county’s leagues are given the opportunity to nominate a coach. This year, eight girls’ coaches were nominated. Those eight were narrowed down to two finalists. Lewis was a near unanimous selection in the final voting. “He came out of left field and threw me for a loop,” said Jesse James, director of the North-South All Star game.
James admitted he hadn’t heard of the Laguna coach before the selection process began, but “It was obvious [the voters] knew him,” he said.
A life-long Orange County resident, Lewis played at Tustin High School, leading the Tillers to a league title and the 1981 CIF championship game. He attended Long Beach State on a basketball scholarship, where he continued to develop the smooth stroke from long range that earned him the nickname Sweet Lew.
He got his first taste of coaching as a high school sophomore, when he led a team of local fifth-graders to an undefeated season and a district championship. In the early ‘90s, Lewis served as an assistant to his long-time friend Clayton Olivier, then head coach of the boys varsity program at Los Amigos High.
Lewis and Olivier teamed up again to coach the Laguna Beach boys’ varsity team in 2001. Today, the roles are reversed. Olivier is now an assistant to Lewis, and he has been instrumental to the team’s turnaround. “Like many individual awards, this recognition reflects a team effort, from the coaching staff to the players to the administration,” said Lewis.
When the girls’ head coaching position opened up in 2011, Lewis’ daughter Alexandra, then a Thurston eighth grader with a pretty good outside jumper of her own, urged him to apply. Having coached both his son Brandon (’12) and his daughter since they were in elementary school, Lewis couldn’t pass up the opportunity to spend four more years on the court with Alexandra.
When it came time for Lewis to receive his award at a recent banquet, it was fitting that Alexandra was there to present it to him. “She delivered a very heartfelt and genuine introduction,” said Lewis. “It was a very special moment for me.”
The graduation of Laguna’s all time scoring leader Emily Writer and one of its best centers Sam Garner, and the exodus of several other key players, left Lewis with no senior leadership and only eight players total in his first season as head coach. That squad suffered through an 0-18 season that left him down, but nowhere near out.
He instituted a rigorous offseason training program, including spring and summer league competition. The experience gave his players the confidence they lacked and the struggling program the respect it deserved.
To start his second season, the Laguna girls bolted from the gate, winning 13 of their first 14, including titles in the Oxford Academy Tournament and the MaxPreps Holiday Classic.
They finished 19-6, setting a new standard for the future of the program, a standard spelled out by each player’s Belief, Effort, Attitude, Commitment, and Heart. “Every day we work at living up to [BEACH],” said Lewis. “Much has been accomplished, but there is more to be done for sure.”