By Ray Hamill — Mark Gardner recently stepped down as head coach of St. Bernard’s girls basketball after three successful years in charge.
And all three seasons had one common thread above all others — outstanding senior leadership.
During his tenure, Gardner compiled a record of 66-27, including three unbeaten league campaigns, as well as winning a North Coast Section championship in 2019 and making it all the way to the final four in NorCal Division V.
And he can thank his senior players for leading the way in all three seasons and setting a tone for the younger players that has almost become a tradition within the program.
“It’s interesting looking back on it, I don’t think I realized how good I had it having Jayden (Johnson) and (Abiona Katri) that first year,” he said of his first senior class. “They were real solid captains that first year, and I think I probably learned more from them than they learned from me.
“They were great captains and great people.”
Both Johnson and Katri went on to play at College of the Redwoods, with the latter playing a part in this year’s big championship run.
“They had such a strong presence about them, and whether they were leading by word or example the girls really followed them,” Gardner said of the duo. “Those two really set the tone for us.”
The tradition continued a year ago, with the unselfish trio of Emily Gardner, Jasa Sisemore and Maddie Costa.
The Crusaders finished 26-7 that season, winning a third NCS title for the program in just four years.
“What a terrifically talented team,” Mark Gardner said. “The thing about that senior group was their unselfishness. They didn’t care between the three of them who led the team in scoring.
“They were just as happy feeding each other for baskets as they were scoring, and that kind of set the tone on that team.”
This year’s seniors were just as impressive, ending a long standing losing streak to crosstown rivals Eureka and almost knocking off the Loggers twice on the way to a 21-7 campaign.
A large group of seniors were led by Marayah Tomlinson, MacKenzie Finck, Shelby Jordan and Josie Peterson, each of whom closed out their high school careers in style, winning yet another league title.
“They set the tone with their work ethic and their intensity,” Gardner said of this year’s senior class, which also included Amelia Francis and Verissa Moon. “All of these kids for three years I was their coach, and I’m really going to miss them a lot.”
Gardner, who previously was an assistant coach for nine years with the St. Bernard’s boys team, announced his decision to step down right after the season, citing the need for a break after so many years coaching.
“I just thought, you know, it’s been 13 years, it’s probably time to take a break,” he said. “It certainly wasn’t an easy decision. I still question did I do the right thing, and I think I did.”
The long-time coach says he will miss the players and people he dealt with most of all.
“It’s the relationships, that’s what I’m going to miss more than anything,” he said. “The wins and losses are great but they don’t really matter. It’s the relationships with other coaches, the relationships with the players, the relationships with the administration, with other people, with the press.”
St. Bernard’s boys head coach Steve Thrap also stepped down at the end of this past season after 13 years in charge, and the school is currently taking applicants for both vacancies.
School Athletic Director Ryan Bisio expects interviews to be conducted in the coming weeks and new head coaches in place in April.