Story by Emmanuel Barrera
It was not always easy for the Palomar women’s basketball program to be successful as they are today. On Sept. 14, 2010, Leigh Marshall was hired to be Palomar’s women’s basketball team’s 11th head coach with only two months away from the season to start.
Marshall has earned an associate’s degree from Orange Coast College, a bachelor’s in kinesiology from Cal State Fullerton and a master’s in kinesiology with an emphasis in coaching from Cal State Long Beach. Before she was a coach, Marshall felt like an only child because her older sister was 11 years older and had been out of the house during her childhood. Being involved with sports at a young age made an impact on her and kept her busy.
“Coming home by myself after school and things like that, you know, and then ended up just getting with the kids in the neighborhood, go into the park playing sports, and I had a great childhood,” said Marshall.
Basketball was introduced to Marshall when she picked up a ball and started shooting at a young age and started playing for her school’s team. She came from a winning culture back home as a player and assistant coach at Costa Mesa High. At Orange Coast College, she was a two-guard player, a shooting guard and a point guard.
In her two years at Orange Coast, Marshall’s team had a combined win-loss record of 55-15, and in her second year where she helped her team win a championship, finishing the season 30-6. “I wanted to continue to go on and be a coach,” said Marshall, and she knew that she needed coaching experience, which she got from coaching at Orange Coast for five years and at El Modena High School basketball for two years as a head coach.
“I applied for this job [at Palomar] and I didn’t even get an interview and so then September comes around, and I get a phone call from the then athletic director Scott Cathcart and he’s like, ‘Are you still interested in the position?’ Marshall said. “Of course I am, you know, so come down here, I’d like to talk with you. I’m thinking, you know, I knew the job had opened back up, but I thought I was going through the interview process. I think pretty much I was the only one that would take it at that late of a time.”
She was told by a lot of her close friends and family to not take the job since it was in its rebuilding stages, and it was going to be a mess. “I knew it was my one chance to get into where I wanted to be and be a head coach,” said Marshall. She admitted that her first two seasons at Palomar were a struggle. With two months until the start of her first season, she needed to build a team since there was no recruiting class.
“We found kids around. We literally sat in the quad and talked to every female student that would walk by and ask them if they played sports before, pulled a couple kids that way and ended up having a team,” said Marshall.
In her 12 years of coaching, Marshall has been named California Community College Athletic Association (CCCAA) California State Coach of the year in 2015, 2017 and 2018. On Nov. 19, 2021, Marshall won her 200th career win with the Comets. She knew that win 200 was coming but was not expecting it that night. When she found out that she had won, she was surprised and felt cool about it. Marshall has been a familiar face when going into the playoffs. She has made appearances in the sweet sixteen seven times, elite eight five times, and one final four appearance.
Marshall likes to prepare each team player whether it is watching opponents or previous games on film, or learning and practicingcertain styles of defense. She likes to keep her head busy by watching previous games one more time before she takes off to the court. “I don’t like just hanging out,” said Marshall.
Bianca Littleton, a former Comet who played under the wings of Marshall and is currently Palomar’s Assistant Athletic Director, described coach Marshall via email as a “LIONESS!!!,” because of her fearlessness, courage, and empowering leadership. Littleton played at Palomar for two years from 2012 to 2014 where she was part of the team that won coach Marshall’s first Pacific Coast Athletic Conference title. “Playing under her was one of the best experiences in my life!” said Littleton. “I was pushed both mentally and physically; however, to be a part of Comet history is what made my experience with Leigh Marshall both fulfilling and rewarding this day.”
With the help of Marshall, Littleton was able to receive an athletic scholarship and continue to play basketball at California State University East Bay. For her, Marshall is her “mentor, colleague, friend,” and is one of the most “influential people” in her life.
Evelyn Terreza, a point guard who has been sidelined due to injuries, said in an email that Marshall had helped her become “more mentally tough.”
“She has always kept it real with me in terms of what I can become as a player,” Terreza said.
Some teams’ success is not only from all the sweat and work done on the court; it can also come from that one fan who takes the time out of their day to support the team: Susan Lopez, Marshall’s mother. “I am so proud because she has worked so hard at the Palomar program and earned every accolade through sweat and that hard work, also said, I couldn’t be any prouder of the caring woman she has become. If I could have picked a child, it would be her,” said Lopez.
“She wasn’t a big sports fan. I loved it her and my dad came to every single game like still to this day, they drive out here an hour to come to every home game. They’re huge like supporters and fans,” said Marshall.
Outside of the Dome, Marshall coaches a 16U boys’ basketball team in the same program her assistant coach directs: the Coastal Elite club. She has been working with the same group of boys since they were eight years old.
Chris Kroesch, Palomar women’s basketball assistant coach and director of Coastal Elite Basketball Academy, said that part of Marshall’s success is her attention to detail while preparing her team for the game.
“She cares deeply for those she coaches and does whatever she can to help them be successful in all aspects of life,” Koresch said. “Her passion for her profession and those she coaches shines through.”
Marshall sometimes goes back home to visit her family and friends in Costa Mesa. She spends most of her time with her two dogs: Harley, a 9-year-old Rottweiler, and Bully the Pitbull, who was a rescue from The Pits, an animal rescue in San Diego. She will be getting married in June with her partner of nine years who is also a basketball coach.
“I think a lot of times it’s easy to give in and quit when things get difficult and you’re right about to succeed,” Marshall said. “You’re right about to hit that turning point. So I would just say like, keep getting back up and keep pushing forward.”