Southern California's High School Sports Blog

Girls Hoops: Coach of the Year

Sonora coach Melissa Barajas guided the Raiders to their first CIF-SS finals appearance in 2016. Photo/Jon Lofdahl.

Sonora coach Melissa Barajas guided the Raiders to their first CIF-SS finals appearance in 2016. Photo/Jon Lofdahl.

It’s easy to get overlooked when your Sonora, playing in the Freeway League with county powerhouse Troy. But Sonora had a breakthrough season in 2015-16 as Raiders coach Melissa Barajas led her team to its first CIF-SS finals appearance.

The Raiders battled and led against Orange Lutheran, the defending champion, before losing by just four points, but a 28-win season and a trip to the CIF So Cal Regional quarterfinals is a special thing.

Although, they lose second team All-County member Marissa Dunn, as well as Angela Rodriguez and Jasmine Shedd, Sonora will return third team All-County Laine James and Meghan Henderson as well as freshman Elizabeth Yoshitake next season. With five 20-win seasons in the past seven years, expect Barajas and the Raiders to not skip a beat next season. The Raiders have earned a lot of respect this season, something that is hard to do when you have one of the state’s toughest teams in your league.

Last year, it was the Sonora boys coach Mike Murphy who was our OC Sidelines coach of the year, but the girls rule the hardwood in 2016 at Sonora and Barajas is the 2015-16 OC Sidelines Girls Basketball Coach of the Year.

OC SIDELINES COACH OF THE YEAR Q&A

Melissa Barajas of Sonora is the 2015-16 OC Sidelines Coach of the Year. Photo/Jon Lofdahl.

Melissa Barajas of Sonora is the 2015-16 OC Sidelines Coach of the Year. Photo/Jon Lofdahl.

Name: Melissa Barajas

High School: Sonora High

High School Career: St. Paul High School (in Santa Fe Springs)

College Career: Concordia University, Irvine.

Describe this season?

Barajas: “This season at Sonora was an amazing journey. It truly was a reflection of the hard work these players had invested. I knew early on though that this year was going to be special. Early in the season, we are in a close game late in the 4th and our players were focused and executed just like we practiced. That game showed me our players had not only the talent and heart, but the mental toughness it takes to win. Then we went on to beat some really tough teams in close games like Woodbridge, Oak Hills, La Canada and Norco. Then during our playoff run, I was extremely proud of how all of our players were willing to do whatever it took to win.”

What did I learn about yourself this past season?

Barajas: “I really love my job. I loved how we had so many former players encouraged and supported this year’s team on their journey. I love hearing about our former player’s success in the new chapters of their life. I feel really blessed to be coaching at Sonora.”

You got eliminated in the quarterfinals last year. Did you expect your ladies to be hungry to make a run to this year?

Barajas: “We knew our team would be hungry after losing in the quarterfinals last year. We were in the weight room and gym a week after that loss. We had the core of our team returning and they wanted that ring. Losing a close game in the finals against Orange Lutheran, a talented and experienced team, was extremely tough. We were not satisfied with just going through – Our goal was to win it. Now we have inspiration for next year.”

Who was the opposing player you respect the most?

Barajas: “We played a tough schedule and saw some extremely talented players but Kianna Smith from Troy is on another level. She hit a step back 3 with our defender right in her face (in front of our bench) and I remember thinking ‘Wow! That was impressive.'”

Which player on your team do you expect to surprise people next season?

Barajas: “I am not going to name just one because we have a lot of talented players returning that did not get as many minutes because of our seniors. It will be fun to watch them develop over the spring and summer to see who flourishes with the opportunity.”

Sonora isn’t successful this season without … (and why?)

Barajas: “Angela Rodriguez and Jasmine Shedd. They were both seniors who sacrificed personal glory for the betterment of the team. Jasmine always had to guard the other team’s best guard and Angela was always matched up against another team’s most talented forward. They both did so many key things that don’t get measured in the stat book.”

We named Mike Murphy as our Coach of the year last year. Has he influenced or guided you in any way? What has been the best advice he has given you, if any?

Barajas: “Murph has been extremely supportive through this journey and it was his team’s success that also inspired our team. Murph and I are always talking basketball and sharing ideas about the game. He did remind me to ‘trust and believe in what we do well and to stick with what got us there.'”

Were there any coaches who you looked up to or gave you guidance before getting here at Sonora?

Barajas: “My Mentor Richard Wiard, who I coached under at Bishop Amat, is the smartest person I know. I learned so much from him in the three years I coached under him. Even now I constantly am calling for his advice and wisdom.”

Favorite quote?

Barajas: “The will to win is useless without the desire to prepare.”

Is there anyone you want to thank?

Barajas: “I want to thank my players for their dedication and trust. I want to thank our coaching staff for all their hard work and most importantly I want to thank my family, especially my husband Danny, who coaches with me. Coaching as a family makes this experience much more enjoyable.”

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