About the only concern when Brian Fonseca interviewed to be Napa Valley College women’s basketball head coach was his experience coaching female players.
It was for one season 30 years ago at his Rio Vista High School alma mater, a school that even today has only about 350 students.
Fonseca doesn’t remember the Rams’ record that year, but admitted “we were not very good, which is putting it mildly.”
But it’s pretty much a footnote now for a coach who, despite guiding only male players since, has built quite an impressive resume at seven schools. Most notable were his 16 years as head coach at Reedley College, where from 2007 to 2011 his Tigers had three seasons of 20-plus wins and two upset wins in the playoffs.
The season prior to his taking the Reedley helm, 1996-97, Fonseca coached Napa Valley College to the playoffs and a first-round road victory over Lassen way up in Susanville.
He has a personal connection to the Storm athletic program beyond coaching, having been a student there and standout on the tennis team under NVC Hall of Fame coach Jerry Somerville. He not only helped the Storm win a Bay Valley Conference title, but was named NVC Athlete of the Year by then-athletic director Nadine Wade-Gravett — an honor he called “one of my biggest thrills and personal accomplishments.”
Fonseca and his wife of nearly 15 years, LeAnn, not only have an 11-year-old son, Noah, but also a 13-year-old daughter, Eleanor, so this won’t be his first experience mentoring young women.
“We spoke with coaches and administration throughout the Napa Valley and the Reedley area, and everyone we spoke with held Brian in the highest regard,” said Jerry Dunlap, the associate dean for P.E. and athletics at NVC. “Brian’s peers have all expressed his passion, teaching ability and ethical values that have made him a successful coach and asset to their institutions.
“We also know that Brian has a good relationship with many of the valley’s high school coaches and has vast experience in recruiting high school athletes to the community college. It was also important for us to hire a coach/teacher who understands the CCCAA/NAIA/NCAA rules and regulations, which Brian has been involved with for decades.”
Fonseca has been the athletic director, golf coach and a physical education teacher at Rio Vista since 2014, along with radio station advisor and yearbook advisor. He will continue with those roles, and be an adjunct faculty member at Napa Valley College.
Last year, the Storm women saw their season get canceled after just three games at the Sierra College tournament due to not having enough players. After beating Butte with just six players, NVC suffered lopsided losses to Sierra and San Francisco. Vincent Shaw left during his fourth season at the helm after winning 41 games — 19 in the BVC, with a fifth-place finish and two fourths in his first three seasons. Napa Valley had been a combined 9-59 in the three seasons before Shaw took over.
Now it’s Fonseca’s turn to turn things around.
“We are excited to hire a Napa Valley College alum,” Dunlap said. “Brian will take great pride in restoring the women’s basketball program at his alma mater.”
After graduating in 1990 from Sacramento State, where he majored in journalism and minored in physical education with a coaching emphasis, Fonseca earned his teaching credential from the University of the Pacific and a master’s degree from Saint Mary’s College in health PE and recreation.
His first coaching job outside Rio Vista was as an assistant for then-Vanden head coach Jim Boyd in 1985-86, when the Vikings won both CIF Sac-Joaquin Section and Northern California Division III titles and Kevin Luckey — NVC’s athletic director from 2006 to 2013 — was the JV coach.
He then began his community college coaching years at Columbia College in Sonora under Denny Aye, who has been Chabot’s head coach since 2006. Fonseca called the Claim Jumpers’ 1993 state championship season a “fantastic experience.”
After that, he and Napa High graduate Mike Warrington assisted current Justin-Siena Athletic Director George Nessman — who would go on to coach San Jose State from 2005 to 2013 — at Porterville College.
“Working under Ness was a tremendous learning experience, and Mike was the best driver ever. I was usually asleep before we hit the city limits,” Fonseca said of Warrington, who went on to coach Napa High from 2002 to 2008. “Those Porterville years, well, they make me smile, too.”
Fonseca coached his last high school team, at Hiram Johnson-Sacramento, before returning to the college ranks at NVC. That Storm squad had Vintage High alum Ted Ward, who returned to the area in 2010 to coach the Vintage girls for two years and the Crusher boys for three.
Ward stopped by the NVC gym to visit Fonseca during one of the NVC Summer League nights of high school girls basketball on July 11. They shared memories while looking at a 1996-97 team picture of players who had prepped under coaching legends Denny Lewis of Napa High and Russ Critchfield of Vintage.
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“We caught a bit of lightning,” Fonseca said. “Lots of Napa legends on that team: Ted Ward, Doug Swim, Andy Viera, Jeff Parrish, Matt Escamilla and Bryan Powers, who busted me up constantly. Denny Lewis and Russ Critchfield really prepared these guys well. We were gritty and just had a knack for winning. (Grass Valley native) Brandon Lampe was the anchor on that team, as was exceptional scorer Darren Harrington. Viera was our rock, Ward was so steady and versatile, and Swim had a knack for the dramatic. Looking back, those were special times indeed.
“Thanks to that team, I was able to land the full-time coaching position at Reedley College.”
Four years later, he was named Central Valley Conference Coach of the Year for the Tigers, whose school is between Visalia and Fresno.
“The CVC was big boy basketball country, and we took our share of lumps,” he said. “However, from 2007-2009, that was our Golden Age.”
Reedley went 21-11 overall in 2007-08, and Fonseca was named CVC Co-Coach of the Year after the Tigers finished 25-7 overall in 2008-09.
“We lost to eventual state champion Saddleback in the (2009) state quarterfinals in a game I still think we could have won,” he recalled. “That season also featured a four-overtime loss to Fresno City. For me, it tends to be true that those gut-wrenching losses feel worse than the good times feel good. Maybe because I too am a sports fan in general, the losses really grate at the sour.
“Former (Reedley) baseball coach and athletic director Jack Hacker was a wonderful mentor. We had great players, a great staff and great support in general. I was named co-coach of the year twice, but I really felt the team members should be the players of the year.”
“One of the coolest moments was ending Citrus College’s 30-something-game home winning streak (see www.youtube.com/watch?v=neva7qGm0GE for highlights of the game), and surviving on the road at Ohlone to make the state tournament was also one of my favorite games. That season was fun.”
Fonseca grew up in Isleton playing football, basketball, baseball and tennis.
“I actually played three years of varsity hoop, but I was horrible,” he recalled. “I had trouble with foot and ankle injuries in high school, which was why I started playing tennis a little more.”
That led to his tennis career at NVC, where one of his teammates was current American Canyon High boys tennis coach Eric Jackson.
“I learned so much about tennis, working hard, and we laughed a ton, too,” Fonseca said.
He’s never coached tennis, but he has been the golf coach at Rio Vista since leaving his Reedley hoops post in 2014 to be athletic director at his high school alma mater.
“I came back home to Rio Vista primarily for family reasons,” he said. “I needed a break from the grind, my father had just passed, and I needed a reset. The principal at RVHS, Vicky Turk, is a tremendous leader. I have learned a tremendous amount from her and acquired a much better sense of the big picture of athletics, which includes academic and athletic success.”
And now he’s ready to bookend his coaching career by coaching female athletes again.
“This is an opportunity to return to one of my favorite places and build a something special from the ground up, literally,” he said. “The plan is build a program centered around Napa Valley ladies, then mix in gals from surrounding areas such as Lake County, Santa Rosa, Vallejo and Fairfield. The plan is to build a program here at NVC that ladies near and far want to be a part of. I also envision the members of the program accomplishing great feats in the classroom, and being active, productive persons in the community.
Fonseca, who commutes from Rio Vista, has been able to immerse himself in the local high school girls basketball scene by running the Monday night NVC summer league, which wrapped up Monday.
“I am very impressed with our local high school coaches, and local programs,” he said. “Recruiting has been solid; I really like the core of ladies that is starting to build a solid foundation. We need to build our numbers, but the quality of these young ladies we currently possess is just so impressive. We have work to do; as a rule I never like to rule anything out — or anything in. We will be starting conditioning immediately once the fall semester begins at NVC.”
He said “the Storm trifecta” is his motivation.
“I was fortunate to play and win in the postseason as an athlete here at NVC, I was able to win a postseason game as coach of the men, and now the plan is to build and ascend the women’s basketball program into a playoff winner as well,” he said. “Who knows, perhaps we’ll have a few wondrous March Madness runs of our own.”
It’s all part of giving back to the NVC Hall of Famer who, in her 35th year at the school, is the assistant coordinator for physical education.
“I would love to pay NVC back and build a program that the college, the community and Nadine Wade-Gravett are proud of,” he said.