RICHMOND -- Salesian High girls basketball coach Steve Pezzola doesn't believe in staying stagnant.
"I think that, like players, coaches need to get better every year. When seasons end, I try to examine what I can do better during games, what I can do better at practice," said Pezzola, who just concluded his fifth season as the Pride's coach.
One thing he wanted to address was his team's tendency to start games slow. So in December, he made a change in the team's practices.
"We started out really hard ... really quickly in practice, we are going 100 miles an hour. It really worked. We started off games really fast," Pezzola said.
The players had already laid a good foundation for the season.
"The girls really worked hard in the offseason, in the weight room. They all got stronger. In the summer, they worked on skills. They took it to the next level," Pezzola said.
Salesian also took its game to the next level during the 2013-2014 season. After reaching the CIF Division IV state title game two years in a row, the Pride not only qualified for the CIF Open Division this year, it also won the Northern Regional playoffs to advance to the state championship game.
"We were able to develop a family atmosphere on the team. It was more than (just a team chemistry). When someone had a bad moment, everybody came together to help that person," Pezzola said. "That is what I'm most proud of."
For his team's success this season, Pezzola has been named the Bay Area News Group East Bay Girls Basketball Coach of the Year.
"He's a really good teaching coach, but he also leaves room for us to show our own skills and talents, and gives us time to freelance," said Salesian senior center Zoe Correal about Pezzola.
At the state championship game, Salesian used an impressive 16-0 run in the third quarter to wipe out a double-digit deficit and take the lead against Long Beach Poly before eventually falling 70-52. One of the changes Salesian made was employing a 1-2-1-1 press, one of three different types of full-court presses the Pride used this season to frustrate opponents.
"I don't think (Long Beach Poly) had seen that, and it really worked and it got our girls fired up," said Pezzola about the 1-2-1-1 press.
Salesian was also able to beat St. Mary's Berkeley, a nationally-ranked team at points of this season, four of the five times then played each other, including in the CIF Open Division Northern Regional semifinals.