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Center Santa Monica HIgh School Girls Basketball Varsity Head Coach Marty Verdigo raises his fists to celebrate inside the North Gym located on the campus of Santa Monica HIgh School on Wednesday Feburary 24th 2010 in the closing seconds of the game vs The Rancho Cucamonga High School Girls Varsity Basketball team as SAMO hosted Rancho in the quarterfinals of the southern section Division 1 playoffs as his players start to celebrate with him (photo by Morgan Genser)

SAMOHI — In a short tenure that has included four trips deep into the playoffs and even a California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section title, Head Coach Marty Verdugo has made his mark on Santa Monica High School’s girls’ basketball team. Now, he says, it’s time to move on.

Following this season, his fifth, he said that he plans to leave the coaching post and pursue other interests in the sport. The announcement Sunday came just a day after his Vikings won the Inglewood Circle of Champions Tournament, the first preseason tourney win in his time leading the team.

Verdugo said that he isn’t being forced out by any means, but instead said that this was all part of his five-year plan when he took the job.

“I’ve accomplished what I hoped to accomplish,” Verdugo said. “But, at this stage, I’m just going to focus on this season.”

His list of accomplishments run deep. He’s led Samohi to three Ocean League titles, the CIF-SS Division 1A title last season (the first in the sport in school history), a trip to the third round of the state playoffs, and has developed a number of players who have gone on or plan on going on to NCAA Division 1 teams.

“I came here to see if we could go to the next level,” he said. “We’ve been able to elevate the team to being one of the elite programs in Southern California.”

The mark he’s made on his players is evidenced by many accolades, but also in what he’s taught them on the court.

“He’s a very intense coach,” said senior Moriah Faulk, who has committed to play for UCLA next year. “He brings out the best in you. He knows how to light your fire.”

Despite the announcement, Verdugo said that this team has the goods to match the accomplishments of his past teams. He said that despite reaching the summit last year, he said he wouldn’t mind a repeat performance this season.

Those odds are good as the Vikings have run off to a 5-0 start, the best in his time at the school, and are stocked with a roster of players who have been battle tested and heavily recruited.

In addition to Faulk, Bianka Balthazar and Kristina “KJ” Johnson have also signed letters of intent to D1 schools. Balthazar has committed to Long Beach State while Johnson will play for the University of the Pacific. The three D1 recruits on this team eclipses the two from last year’s squad — Thea Lemberger and Lilly Feder.

Once the season is completed, Verdugo said that he plans to continue to teach at Samohi, but isn’t sure about his future in basketball.

“There are some things I want to look at,” Verdugo said. “But, I do know I’ll still be in basketball.”

Samohi begins the Redondo Tournament today against Peninsula High School. The tournament will conclude on Saturday.

daniela@smdp.com