PHOTO BY Stephen Dachman; Susan Pescar and her son Spencer accompany Wilson volleyballer Cynthia Barboza for her induction into the school’s Hall of Fame last Fall.
Legendary Wilson volleyball coach Susan Pescar passed away earlier this month at the age of 70 after a long battle with cancer. Pescar, who coached both girls’ and boys’ teams for the Bruins for more than a decade, was remembered by friends and the athletes who played for her as much for her kindness and generosity as for her remarkable accomplishments on the court.
“Part of my heart left me when she passed,” said Wilson All-American Rebecca Strehlow-Watson. “Personally for me, she was more than just a coach. She was a mother figure, a teacher, a caregiver.”
Pescar coached three of the 11 volleyball players in Wilson’s Hall of Fame. In 11 years as the girls’ volleyball coach, from 2001 to 2011, Pescar’s Bruins went 121-12 in the Moore League with seven league titles, a CIF-SS Division 1 championship, two CIF-SS Division 1 runner-ups, and a SoCal Regional championship. Pescar, who also coached the boys’ program, coached Wilson legend Cynthia Barboza, who won the Gatorade National Player of the Year award. Her Bruins ranked as high as No. 3 in the nation.
One of the coaches Pescar’s teams had some epic battles with was Lakewood’s Mike Wadley.
“Susan was the Phil Jackson of our league,” said Wadley. “It takes a special person to manage the talent that was going through there and have success every single year. I’ve never seen a more gentle soul. She’s one of the greatest coaches to ever come out of our league–you need a patience and a peace to manage the personalities the way she did. I couldn’t have done it.”
Wadley’s son Adam played on Pescar’s boys’ volleyball team, and when she began undergoing treatment for cancer, he volunteered to coach that team in her absence, a sign of the relationships Pescar developed in the city.
“I always knew she was a great coach but getting to be around her and see what a giving person she was meant a lot to me,” said Wadley.
Strehlow-Watson was one of the very talented Bruins that passed through during Pescar’s tenure. When Strehlow-Watson arrived on campus, she was a highly-touted freshman who ended up as the varsity setter on a team with veteran stars like Kellie Woolever, Kellie Culbertson, and Candace Nicholson.
“I was a 14 year-old freshman going up against seniors for playing time,” said Strehlow-Watson. “Susan gave me so much comfort, she told me to just go play with my heart, and one day I’d be a role model for the freshmen. She knew I’d become something before I realized I could.”
Strehlow-Watson ended up having a sensational four-year volleyball career at Wilson before going on to play at UCLA and Pepperdine, winning an NCAA title on the sand.
“It’s hard to put into words,” said Strehlow-Watson. “Even if you weren’t on her team she’d do something for you–if you needed help, she’d give you everything she could give. I know she’ll always be in my ear supporting me and supporting everyone who played for her.”