Sports

Stanford connects SHP and Corona del Mar in state finale

Sacred Heart Prep assistant coach Matt Moran may have some mixed emotions when his team takes on Corona del Mar in the Division III finals of the 2013 CIF State Football Championship Bowl Games presented by Farmers.

Not only will it be the Gators against the Sea Kings on Saturday at the StubHub Center in Carson, kickoff is at noon, but it will be family against family. Sort of.

A starting wide receiver for Corona del Mar is junior Bo St. Geme.

"Bo's my nephew," said Moran.

The SHP-Corona del Mar connection, via Stanford University, started in some 30 years ago when Moran played football for the Cardinal (1981-84). One of his teammates during that time was safety Ed St. Geme.

One day, Moran introduced St. Geme to a young runner who later would be an All-American and national champion, Ceci Hopp.

On another occasion, Moran was introduced to Hopp's sister, Ellen.

Eventually, Hopp married St. Geme and Moran married Ellen. Suddenly, it was one big happy family.

Ceci and Ed went on to raise six children, one of them being Bo. The 6-foot, 170-pounder is the No. 2 wide receiver for Corona del Mar with 58 catches for 733 yards and seven touchdowns. He has been a key member of the Sea Kings' 15-0 season.

Moran, who coaches the SHP offensive line, would like to see his nephew shine. Then again, the Gators are having their best football season ever and have a legitimate shot at winning a state title.

"Either way," said Moran, "someone's going to be unhappy this weekend."

The Moran-St. Geme connection isn't the only one involving Stanford.

SHP receiver Andrew Daschbach's father, Mark, was a fraternity brother with St. Geme atTheta Delta Chi and SHP lineman Patrick Finnigan's father, Dan, played football with St. Geme on the Rolling Hills High team. (The school was merged with two others in 1991 to create Palos Verdes Peninsula High). Finnigan was the center and St. Geme the quarterback.

"Small world," said Moran.

Lavorato will return

There has been talk in recent years that SHP head coach Pete Lavorato might be retiring.

"I've given it some thought," he said.

Lavorato, 61, had some family issues to deal with involving his wife's mother and her health issues. But, Lavorato has worked things out.

"Right now I really feel good," he said. "I feel like this is where God wants me. I love coaching these young men. Unless someone kicks me out (of Sacred Heart Prep), that's where I'll be."

This, of course, comes as good news for the 29 returning players on the Gators' roster. Lavorato has taken a team that once played the likes of John Swett (High) in the North Coast Section and found success in the Central Coast Section. Since joining the section in 2008, SHP has gone 63-13-1. Bellarmine's record during that same time in 63-12-1.

Bellarmine (2009 and '11) and Palo Alto (2006 and '10) are the only other CCS teams ever to play for a state title. Paly is the only one to win, in 2010, while finishing 14-0.

Sacred Heart Prep, which is the first CCS team playing for a state crown in Division III or lower, will have a chance to win its 14th game on Saturday against a Corona del Mar team attempting to become the first in state history to win 16.

The defense

When SHP defensive coordinator Mark Modeste arrived in 2007, the Gators were preparing for their final season of play in the North Coast Section. The team was coming off a 5-5 record the season before, the last time SHP would have a .500 record.

SHP finished 8-2 during the regular season, earned an NCS playoff berth and headed off to the CCS in 2008.

Modeste, meanwhile, was in the process of switching SHP's defense from a 4-3 to a 3-4, which was run by Santa Clara University when he played defensive back there from 1988-91. In fact, he grew up learning the 3-4 because his father, Ron, was an assistant coach at SCU for 31 years under Pat Malley.

"Pete (Lavorato) said, 'Coach what you know,'" Modeste recalled of his early conversations with SHP's head coach.

The plan was to switch the big, bulky defensive linemen to the offense line and get more speed into the defense. The other key factor was the ability to teach.

"I can coach with intent," Modeste explained. "Why we're doing it, not just do it. We want these kids to think critically. If they know why we're doing it, they're engaged. And, these kids get it. They do it every day (in class)."

Thus, SHP's defense went from being big and bulky to wide and fast.

The Gators are allowing only 8.7 points a game this season, believed to be the best mark ever in school history. One key reason for that has been the emergence of junior Ben Burr-Kirven, who started his career as a defensive back. After suffering a broken hand last year, Burr-Kirven was moved to outside linebacker.

"He's probably the best pass-rusher I've ever seen at this level," Modeste said. "He's the fastest guy on the team."

Burr-Kirven's speed has allowed him to fill in as running back, due to the broken hand suffered by senior Ricky Grau. Burr-Kirven rushed for 160 yards and scored four touchdowns in addition to being in on 17 tackles in SHP's resounding 42-7 defeat of El Cerrito in the NorCal title game last weekend.

Burr-Kirven and his fellow defenders will play a key role once again in Saturday's state finale against Corona del Mar.

"These games always come down to defense," Modeste said. "But, nothing bothers this team. They're used to pressure. You're here to achieve. The expectation is you'll put your best foot forward, and succeed."

The rankings

Prior to last weekend's 42-7 dismantling of El Cerrito in the NorCal championships, Sacred Heart Prep was ranked No. 5 in NorCal Division III while El Cerrito was No. 1 in the same division. Some Bay Area rankings had the Gauchos as high as No. 2 behind powerhouse De La Salle.

This week, according to MaxPreps, Sacred Heart Prep is ranked No. 62 in the state and No. 551 nationally. Corona del Mar, meanwhile, is No. 65 and No. 565, respectively. The Sea Kings, however, were ranked as high as No. 22 in the state by another publication.

State titles

Sacred Heart Prep will be making the school's 14th appearance in a state finale this weekend. The girls' basketball program has played for five state titles (1993, '94, '95, '96 and '99) and won them all while the girls' volleyball team is 2-6 in state finals -- winning in 1995 and '96.

A final word

"It's been a bit crazy around here since Saturday night," said Frank Rodriguez, SHP's athletic director. "It seems all everyone is talking about (with BIG smiles) relates to what our boys and their coaches have accomplished (and what they still hope to accomplish.

"I am just so proud of these kids and so grateful for Pete, Matt, Mark Modeste and the rest of the coaching staff, who have given so much of themselves as they've built a program that focuses on character development as much as skill development. The team celebrates each other's success every bit as much as their individual accomplishments, and that shows. They've reminded us all that discipline, hard work and caring about each other goes a long way in overcoming what, at times, seem to be insurmountable odds. They believe in themselves and each other. It's just great stuff."

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