High School | General | 2/8/2019

'Team' comes first at VCHS

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Coleman Brigman (Valley Christian HS Baseball)

2019 Perfect Game High School Preview Index

Coleman Brigman has been attending Valley Christian Schools in San Jose, Calif., since he was in fourth grade, and will graduate from Valley Christian High School this spring. He is also set to start his senior season as a highly regarded outfielder for the Warriors’ nationally ranked baseball team and has signed his letter of intent with Santa Clara University.

But there’s more to Brigman than just being another name on the Warriors’ 2019 roster. Brigman, in fact, represents another branch of an impressive family tree that has been very good to long-time Valley Christian head coach John Diatte.

Bryson Brigman (class of 2014), Keenan Brigman (2015) and Dawson Brigman (2018) are all VCHS alumni and all moved onto the next level. Bryson was a third-round pick of Seattle Mariners in 2016 out of the University of San Diego and is now a top prospect in the Marlins’ farm system; Keenan is a redshirt junior at UC San Diego; Dawson is a freshman at Santa Clara.

Simply put, Coleman Brigman knows just how satisfying it is can be to slip on a Valley Christian game jersey, just like your brothers before you..

“It means so much to me,” he told Perfect Game over the phone earlier this week. “Especially coming down to my last season, I realize that you only go through high school once so you want to take advantage of every moment you’ve got.

“Putting on that jersey is really a blessing and you’ve got to carry it with a responsibility, you’ve got to carry it with respect,” he added. “It carries some weight and you definitely want to perform for the team and for the history of the program.”

And so goes the rhythm of the road with the baseball program at Valley Christian High School. Diatte is starting his 30th season as head coach at VCHS, and through the years and has even been part of moves to several different campuses around  the San Jose metro area. The high school now sits on what’s called the Skyway Campus located in the southern part of the city.

“I’ve seen a lot of campuses and all the trials of the school,” Diatte told PG during a recent telephone conversation, “but it’s been fun to watch the school grow, especially the athletic program.”

One thing that hasn’t changed is the decades-long prowess of Diatte’s program. The Warriors come into the 2019 season as the two-time California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Open Division Central Coast Section (CCS) champion. The section championships captured in 2017 and 2018 were the seventh and eighth for Diatte-coached teams in the last 20 years.

And that prowess has been recognized. Valley Christian opens the 2019 season at the No. 6 team in the PG High School Preseason National Top 50 Rankings and at No. 2 in the PGHS Pacific Region (California, Hawaii) behind only No. 4 overall Orange Lutheran.

Diatte hammers home the “team” concept within his program and developing a true “team” is the highest priority. This year he feels like he has an excellent group of seasoned seniors and experienced juniors who are going to be huge assets when it comes to that development.

The top seniors are Brigman; right-hander/first baseman William Kempner (Gonzaga signee); outfielder Steven Zobac (California) and shortstop Nico Marinconz (Cal Poly). Outfielder Eddie Park (Stanford) and middle-infielder Jack McGrew head the junior class and infielders Jonathan Cymrot (Arizona) and Trevor Haskins (Stanford) are among the top sophomores.

“This is a new team and that means that there needs to be new leadership and getting used to the dynamics of having 24 guys,” Diatte said. “Even though you might have 12 or 14 guys that came back, it’s still a different team dynamic. … The thing that we’re most working hard on is getting guys in the right places doing the right things at the right time.

Kempner and Brigman possess very similar baseball attributes in the eyes of PG scouts. Kempner is ranked No. 262 overall in the 2019 class, and No. 44 in California; Brigman is ranked Nos. 269/46.

Kempner has been at Valley Christian Schools his entire high school career, so he’s been a part of the back-to-back Central Coast Section championships. His hopes are high when it comes to celebrating a third title in a couple of months.

“Coming into the season we feel amazing about the group that we have assembled right now,” he said. “Our team is fully assembled with guys that love the game and cherish the game and they want to win, but we need to find a way with the few new guys that are on the field and the sophomores that have come up.”

Park is ranked Nos. 270/41 in the class of 2020, while Cymrot and Haskins come in at Nos. 55/7 and 75/11 in the class of 2021.


… … …

The Warriors struggled early on, sitting at 8-9-1 after their first 18 games. Having righted the ship, they were able to win 14 of their last 16 games, including a 4-3 victory over Los Garos in the Central Coast Section championship game.

When Diatte assembled his team for the first time before the next season in 2018 season, the message to his players was, “remember what that felt like.” That 8-9-1 record didn’t feel very good so Diatte wanted his team to also remember how much better that 14-2 run and section championship felt like.

“Baseball is so humbling,” Diatte said. “You can be one of the top hitting teams in the nation and run into the wrong pitcher and get beat. It’s never an easy task to win a baseball game; it’s always going to be tough and you’re always going to have to execute and you’re going to have to take advantage of those opportunities that you have to score.”

The message coming into this season didn’t change much, other than the fact that Diatte didn’t have to address a slow start to the previous season like he’d had to the year before. This year, it was more about continuing to play the game the way Diatte has coached it for the last 30 years.

“Team First” is the program’s mantra and it’s a culture the coaching staff spends a lot of the time trying to get the players to understand. Diatte said kids really haven’t changed much in the last 30 years, and as humans the team concept is something that often times the youngsters most resist. It’s simply human nature to want to pursue the things that are most important to us as individuals. But it can work both ways.

“We’re letting the kids know that, hey, they are extremely important – everyone of one of you athletes is important to us as coaches – but the team concept is the most important thing,” he said. “When we take the field we’re doing that as a team. We’re not going to just send one guy out there and ask him to win the ballgame for us.”

The message doesn’t really need to be hammered home to the seniors, simply because they’ve lived it for the past four years. Kempner noted that this roster features a lot of returning players who know what it means to play for the word “Warriors” written across their chests.

“They (also) know what it means to buy into Coach Diatte’s program and working as a team to figure out everything,” he said. “We have so many guys that can lead the team and buying into the (team) program is a lot easier because Coach Diatte emphasizes it so much.”

Because California is so vast geographically and its largest population centers are spread out from north to south, the CIF long ago decided to have its high schools compete for section championships instead of state championships.

Diatte is hopeful that maybe, even as early as next year, schools will be competing for Northern and Southern California championships. But in 2019 taking home the Central Coast Section title is still the greatest prize.

“We talk to our players a lot about winning what we can win. What can we win?” he said. “National rankings or state rankings come close, but you really can’t win those – you’re not out there on the field deciding if you’re the number-one team in the state of California. But we can decide who the number-one team in the section is by winning that championship, so we’re focused on that.”

Kempner added: “We’re going into the season as a winning team. We have our minds set on winning the CCS championship and winning as many championships as we can. We’re extremely excited to get on the field next week for our first scrimmage … but all of our thoughts are on the same page: We’re set on winning a CCS championship this year.”

Brigman, too, likes where this team is at in the preseason, but also understands how tricky and treacherous the road to the postseason can be. He doesn’t really talk about the more easily defined goals like winning championships, instead taking a bit of a different approach.

“I think our biggest goal is just to be the best team that we can be,” he told PG. “Obviously, we’ve got a new team this year with a good amount of young guys coming up. Everyone’s bought-in and we’re trying to find our identity as a team, really. That’s the most important thing, you’ve got have on cohesive unit, and we all have the same goal in mind.

“We’ve got a lot of just good, quality personalities; we love to have fun, love to have a good time,” Brigman was quick to add. “We all love to be on the field together and that’s the biggest thing, I think.”

Diatte is passionate about the Valley Christian baseball program he has led for 30 years, but readily admits the culture that’s been created within the program – within the school, for that matter – isn’t for everyone. Discipline is stressed, and since VCHS is a Christian school he is not shy about regularly using Bible references in regard to just about everything the team does.

“It’s an environment where we’re hoping that we’re cultivating the kids’ God-given gifts, talents and abilities every day within that team concept,” Diatte said. “Being pushed out of your comfort zone is something that we have to do for growth. Nobody grows when they’re comfortable; we always grow when we get outside of our comfort zones.”

… … …

JOHN DIATTE IS A 1984 GRADUATE OF VALLEY CHRISTIAN HIGH SCHOOL where he was a member of the baseball team. He went across the country to attend Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., to study and play baseball but once there he was cut from the baseball team.

With his playing days behind him, he moved back home, finished college and got into coaching, first on the staff of the VCHS football team; he took over the baseball program in 1990.

Diatte has made sure he runs with the right crowd. He started hanging out with the coaches at San Jose State and Santa Clara University and then he started taking trips just to rub shoulders with other top coaches. He learned from some of the greats, including Augie Garrido and George Horton, and also enjoys spending time with TCU’s Jim Schlossnagle.

“I would take two or three days and just be around their program; I did that as a young person and I still do it today,” Diatte said. “There is so much information out there and guys that are doing it the right way.”

The foundation he has laid for the program is as solid as any in Northern California and he doesn’t mind admitting that he and assistant coaches strive to attain perfection, even though he knows – and he quotes Vince Lombardi here – that perfection is unattainable. But, he insists, if perfection is not attainable he’s willing to settle for excellence.

Valley Christian is a member of the West Catholic Athletic League, a conference that consists of VCHS and eight parochial schools, many of which are among the oldest on the West Coast; many have fielded baseball teams for more than 100 years.

Dozens of WCAL alumni went on to play in the big leagues, including a kid named Barry Bonds, a 1982 graduate of Junipero Serra. Valley Christian joined the league in 2003 and has won the conference championship four times.

“It’s a grind,” Diatte said of fighting through the league schedule. “On any given day you’re facing a Division I pitcher – usually its two or three times a week you’re facing that – and it’s never an easy task. Even the (teams) that are sometimes at the bottom of the league, those coaches are excellent and they’re working hard.”

And if playing in the WCAL isn’t already challenging enough, Diatte has made sure his guys will be ready to mix it up during the non-league segment of this spring’s schedule. The Warriors will host Texas Class 6A defending state champion and PGHS preseason No,. 29-ranked Southlake Carroll in a season-opening double-header Feb. 21; two days later, PGHS No. 4-ranked Orange (Calif.) Lutheran will visit San Jose.

“I love getting a new group of guys and trying to see how we’re going to mold them and make them a team,” Diatte said. “We try to make our schedule as tough as we possibly can.”

That rugged slate should leave the  Warriors fully prepared to make a deep run into the CIF playoffs. Nothing is promised or guaranteed, of course, and everyone know that.

Kempner told PG that Diatte printed out photos from the dog-pile scene the Warriors engaged in after winning last year’s CCS championship; Diatte posted them on the walls inside the clubhouse. This spring, those photos have already given the guys some inspiration as this team looks for the golden CCS championship trifecta.

“We definitely want nothing less than winning the CCS championship and be able to repeat the same great things that we did last year,” Brigman said. “It really comes down to how hard we want to work every day and how much effort we’re going to put in. We’re definitely setting some high goals and we’re definitely talking about it, but obviously you just have to focus on one day at a time.

“Most of all we want to have fun and really build ‘team’,” he continued. “We need to keep the same energy that we had last year, too. There can’t be an energy drop-off and we can never think it’s going to be easy because we have a big target on our back, so we want to go even harder this season.

As the conversation continued, Kempner explained that the aura surrounding the VCHS program really becomes evident the first time you exit the Warriors’ clubhouse and start walking toward their home field. When you see the field for the time, he said sincerely, it looks just like a piece of art.

“And then,” he said, “you get to the fact that you have such a good team and such a good program, just putting on that jersey is a blessing. Putting on that jersey means that you’re fighting for the team (name) on the front and you’re fighting just for your brothers. …

“It’s been a blessing putting on this jersey; this jersey means a lot to me and it means a lot to all the guys who are putting it on,” he added. “It just means that you’re out to win and that you’re winning as a team.”

Brigman, the kid seemingly born into the Valley Christian program, understands the culture better than most:

“You always want to respect and play for the guys that came before you,” he concluded. “It’s actually pretty awesome that my family has been involved with the program. … Coach Diatte is a fiery coach and he loves to win and he loves his players, and you definitely want to compete and give everything you’ve got for the program.”

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