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Meet the Nevada Preps Coach of the Year

After more than 30 years of coaching high school golf in Southern Nevada, Coronado girls golf coach Joe Sawaia coached his final season this fall.

The Cougars helped their coach go out on top.

Coronado rolled to its third straight Class 5A state title in October, shooting a two-day total of 9-under 567 and finishing 24 strokes ahead of second place.

It was Sawaia’s 12th state title with the Cougars and his seventh with the girls team. He earned his other five with the boys. He was named the Nevada Preps Coach of the Year after building the school into one of the state’s top golf programs.

“Coronado’s strong point was just the team concept and playing for each other and the name on the bag and shirt,” Sawaia said. “You hear that a lot in other sports, but it’s really rare to have that kind of mindset with golf.”

The Cougars experienced individual success as well. Three different Coronado girls golfers have won the last three 5A individual state titles in Yana Wilson, Brynn Kort and Ali Mulhall.

“We were really heavily favored to win all three of those and the girls didn’t disappoint,” Sawaia said. “None of those tournaments were close, there was never a doubt and we set scoring records along the way. … It’s a testament to what the teams had done earlier.”

Sawaia, a former UNLV baseball player, started working at the Sahara Country Club (now Las Vegas National) while he was also serving as a long-term substitute. He “fell in love” with golf there. He started playing in amateur events and began coaching.

“That helped,” Sawaia said of learning to play the game as he began to coach. “I knew what the kids were trying to go through and the more I learned as a player, it was helpful with my coaching.”

He first coached at Valley in 1992 and went to Silverado in 1995. He arrived at Coronado when the school opened in 2001 to coach both the boys and girls.

The Cougars boys team won their first golf state title in 2010. The girls won their first state championship in 2014, the first of four straight for the program.

Sawaia’s last boys title came in 2019, with his sons Ben and Brett on the team. His final season coaching boys golf was 2021.

He continued coaching the girls team to great success. Coronado shot 2-under 566 as a team to win the state title in 2021, becoming the first championship-winning team to shoot under par. The Cougars set another state record by shooting 11-under 565 to win the title the following year.

“We knew we were the most talented team,” Sawaia said. “The last three years with the girls has been an incredible amount of talent.”

Thirty-five golfers Sawaia has coached have gone on to play Division I golf. Sawaia didn’t play golf or participate in other individual sports until adulthood. He said having his athletes buy into a team concept helped with the program’s success.

“I learned a lot of valuable lessons from a team standpoint,” Sawaia said. “When I got the golf job, even though the kids were individual players … I just kind of incorporated a team concept and applied it to golf and the kids really liked it.”

Contact Alex Wright at awright@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AlexWright1028 on X

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