Hired more than two months ago, Sami Field-Polisso sometimes still can’t believe she is the new girls basketball coach at St. Francis High.
“I’m still pinching myself when I’m on campus and thinking, ‘Is this real?’” she said. “What an opportunity.”
Although she graduated from Pinewood School only 10 years ago, Field-Polisso has built up quite a coaching resume. Only a few months after graduating from Sacramento State, where she played basketball, the Mountain View native was hired as girls varsity coach at Los Gatos High.
“To come right in as a varsity head coach is rare,” she said. “I lucked out.”
So did the Wildcats, who improved every season under Field-Polisso. She took them from worst to first in the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League De Anza Division. They went from missing the playoffs with a 6-18 overall record in 2012 to making the Central Coast Section Division I final this year and finishing 21-7.
“The first two years were tough – the first year especially; we didn’t make CCS and had one league win,” said Field-Polisso, a kindergarten teacher at Pinewood. “It took time to change the culture, and I was very fortunate that the players bought in.”
Leaving those players wasn’t easy for Field-Polisso.
“It’s bittersweet, because I just adore them and I’ll still be their biggest fan,” said the coach, who lives in Los Gatos with her younger brother, a senior at the school. “We went from the bottom to the top, and to be a part of that is unforgettable.”
But the chance to coach at St. Francis, which plays in the ultra-competitive West Catholic Athletic League, proved too tempting. Field-Polisso’s coach at Pinewood, Doc Scheppler, encouraged her to apply for the job.
“I thought it was the perfect fit for her at this stage of her coaching career,” said Scheppler, who has coached the Panthers to six state titles and has nearly 600 wins. “And I think Sami is the right fit for that program right now.”
St. Francis athletic director Michael Pilawski shares those sentiments.
“Coach Field-Polisso brings a wealth of knowledge and experience as a player and a coach to our program,” he said in a press release announcing her hiring May 24, “and we are very excited for the leadership and passion for the game she will provide.”
Field-Polisso replaces Brian Harrigan after St. Francis “made a choice to go in a new direction,” Pilawski said. The Lancers reached the Northern California Division II semifinals last season, but finished fifth in the WCAL with a 3-7 record and were 16-13 overall.
Expect St. Francis to play more like Pinewood does under Scheppler, with a drive-and-kick offense that stresses sharing the basketball and shooting plenty of 3-pointers.
“I hope one day my team can play like Pinewood,” said Field-Polisso, who helped the Panthers win two state titles.
Scheppler is confident the Lancers will thrive with his former standout guard at the helm.
“In high school, you could tell she was great coaching material,” he said. “She loves the game – not just playing it, but the intricacies of the game. Sami connects with her players and does all the work necessary to put her team in position to be successful.”