WATSONVILLE — After coaching the girl’s junior varsity basketball squad at Pajaro Valley High for the past two seasons, Kory Chavez was named the head coach of the varsity program, Athletic Director Joe Manfre recently told the Pajaronian.
“I’m excited, nervous, stressed,” Chavez said. “Anybody that goes into coaching, they know how stressful it is; how much work you have to put into it, going over film, researching, building several practices. I didn’t want to take the job unless I was going to be able to do that.”
Chavez takes over for Casey Neligh, who stepped down from his coaching and teaching duties in April to return to school for his master’s degree and teacher’s credential. Since Neligh’s resignation, Chavez has served as the interim head coach and run the offseason basketball practices.
Manfre said Chavez was the perfect fit for the job because of his familiarity with the program and the student-athletes.
Chavez not only knows the incoming juniors and seniors at Pajaro Valley after running the JV program under Neligh but also the freshmen and sophomores because of his role as a physical education teacher, basketball coach and Athletic Director at Rolling Hills Middle School.
Chavez said he’d continue to coach the eighth grade team at Rolling Hills with the middle school season running in the fall and ending weeks before the start of the high school season in the winter.
“He’s familiar with the school and with the girls,” Manfre said. “A lot of the girls knew him from the previous years and they were excited when they found out he was the guy.”
Chavez will try to continue the program’s recent upswing started by Andre Bailey during the 2013-14 season.
Bailey led the Grizzlies to their first-ever Central Coast Section postseason berth in 2014-15 before taking over the boy’s program the following season.
Neligh, who served as an assistant under Bailey for two years, stepped in on short notice and guided the Grizzlies to their first-ever CCS playoff victory in girl’s hoops during the 2015-16 season.
“He watched what they did, what worked and what didn’t,” Manfre said. “He’s said he’s trying to use that and move forward.”
Last season, however, Pajaro Valley saw a dip in success, missing the postseason and finishing second to last in the Monterey Bay League Pacific division while struggling through missing players and injuries.
The Grizzlies graduated a trio of three-year starters in guard Rubi Genis, wing Andrea Magana and forward Maria Vivanco. First Team MBL-P selection Jada Costello, a 5-foot-10 point forward, is also gone after transferring out of Pajaro Valley.
But Chavez will have a solid returning backcourt with senior Heidi Ibarra and junior Jayleen Solorzano leading the way. The coach will also have several members of a 16-win JV team move up to the varsity ranks.
“What really gets me excited is how hungry these girls are,” Chavez said. “They all want to work and that’s why I took the job. There’s a lot of hope. We have a good young group. They don’t want to leave the gym. I think if they keep working, next few years we’re going to see something special from this group.”
Chavez grew up a couple hours northeast of Los Angeles in Barstow and attended Barstow High. He starred on the baseball diamond for the Aztecs before graduating in 2006 and attending Sacramento State, where he graduated from in 2011.
He did not play hoops for Barstow High but spent hours upon hours playing pickup basketball with friends when he wasn’t practicing for baseball.
Soon after being hired by Rolling Hills in 2011 then-A.D. Ashley Denney Ayala asked Chavez to coach the eighth grade girl’s basketball team. Chavez obliged and has been on the sidelines ever since, learning the ins and outs of coaching from Denney, who played college hoops for Cal State Monterey Bay, while also doing plenty of research of his own on offensive and defensive philosophies, among other things.
With Ayala’s help, Chavez also started a basketball academy at Rolling Hills to help teach the student-athletes the fundamentals of the game.
Several current high school players from around the area spent the evenings with Chavez at Rolling Hills, including Pajaro Valley’s star guards on the boy’s basketball team Christian Quintero and Ryan Magbag.
Solorzano, who was second on the team in scoring last season, played for Chavez at Rolling Hills and has spent her offseasons with the academy. She said she grew up playing soccer but turned to basketball after meeting Chavez.
“He helps you out learning everything about basketball but he helps you out with things in life, too,” said Solorzano, who boasted that she gained enough confidence to join Pajaro Valley’s Associated Student Body after playing for Chavez.
“He’s the reason I play basketball,” Solorzano said.