Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - April 16, 2010

SHP lacrosse gets a breakthrough win

Gators step up in class with first-ever victory over rival Menlo-Atherton

by Keith Peters

What began in 2005 is finally beginning to pay off for the Sacred Heart Prep girls' lacrosse team, which has taken its lumps since the program's inception. During that time, the Gators always were on the short end of their matches with Menlo-Atherton.

That streak of futility finally ended Tuesday when Sacred Heart Prep posted a 13-6 victory in a West Bay Athletic League (Foothill Division) showdown on the Gators' field. Sacred Heart improved to 1-1 in league (9-1 overall) while Menlo-Atherton fell to 0-3 (3-8).

The triumph had to be satisfying for SHP senior Tory Wilkinson, who had yet to beat the Bears until Tuesday. She helped the cause by scoring six goals and assisting on others. Prior to Tuesday, the current SHP seniors had been 0-5 against Menlo-Atherton, dating to the 2007 season.

The Gators also lost twice to M-A in league play in 2006 and in '05, Sacred Heart Prep's first season of play. Thus, the Gators were 0-9 lifetime against the Bears until Tuesday.

"I actually was unaware of the fact that SHP had never beaten M-A before this week," said first-year Gators' coach Nina Pantano. "And, to be honest, I am not sure if the seniors or any of the players had that in mind before Tuesday's game.

"The reality is that teams are different every season and, moreover, every game it seems. We just have to go out there and play to win that day. That is a big part of the mentality I have tried to instill in the girls, that no game is a gimmie or too far out of reach. The winner is not determined until the final whistle and that is why you play the game."

Based on season records, Sacred Heart Prep came into its match with M-A as the favorite. But, it didn't start out that way as the Bears shocked the Gators by scoring in the first 10 seconds of the match.

Sacred Heart Prep bounced back quickly behind goals from Wilkinson and Caroline Hoskinson, who finished with two goals. Julia Keller and Kate Lonergan also tallied twice with Michelle Gonia scoring once.

Christina Rodgers and Caroline Edwards had two goals each for the Bears while Katie Kelly and Becca Higgitt added a goal apiece.

"I do think that our team sometimes struggles with entering the game with certain expectations and having to let go of them and just play hard, no matter who their opponent is," Pantano said. "For the remainder of this season, we will continue to work at 'playing in the moment' and going hard every play — regardless of the score or situation."

Tuesday's victory certainly was positive step forward for Sacred Heart in the program's evolution. The seniors who absorbed so many losses over the past three seasons are now in position to dish them out.

"I believe that our team is capable of beating every team on our schedule," said Pantano. "Doing this will require them to play with confidence and composure, both of which we are still developing, although they have already come a long way this season from previous years. I tell them to push their limits, make practices game-like, and not to be afraid to make mistakes. They are a necessary part of the improvement process."

Pantano is a product of Stanford's successful lacrosse program. She started all four years and was captain as a senior in 2005. After graduating, she went on to coach the women's team at UC Davis as an assistant under Elaine Jones from September '05 to June '09.

Pantano stepped in at the right time, taking over for Brandon Badgley, who built the foundation for the program.

Fortunately for Pantano, she inherited Wilkinson.

"Without a doubt, Tory Wilkinson stands out as one of the best high school lacrosse players in California," Pantano said. "She certainly has the potential to excel at the collegiate level when she heads to Louisville this fall. She has excellent stick skills and a natural eye for the game. We count on her for a lot of our draw controls, goal scoring, and leadership on the field. She makes good feeds and has a fair number of assists to complement her goal stats."

Pantano, however, was quick to point out that Wilkinson is certainly not a one-person team.

"I definitely would not say our attack revolves around her," Pantano explained. "She is supported by a number of strong attackers who work hard for their good looks at the cage."

On Tuesday, that group included Hoskinson, Gonia, Keller, Lonergan, Jacqueline Hong, and Kendall Cody, to name a few.

"Tory cannot singlehandedly win games for us," Pantano said. "Everyone will need to step up and do their part. My hope is that every player on my squad has the confidence and skill to make big plays when we need them, and can work together to accomplish our goals. I am looking forward to seeing them rise to the occasion as we enter into the tougher half of our season."

After 10 matches, Sacred Heart's only loss was to perennial powerhouse Menlo in the WBAL opener on March 24. That, however, was a thrilling 16-15 overtime setback for the Gators. Those teams will meet again on April 23.

Two days before that, Sacred Heart will host NorCal power St. Ignatius (4 p.m.) in another match that will give Pantano a good idea of just far her team has come — and how much further it needs to go to be compared to teams like SI and Menlo.

Speaking of the Knights, they remained atop the division standings at 3-0 (10-3 overall) with a 21-7 blasting of visiting Castilleja (0-2, 3-3) on Tuesday.

Maggie Brown led the Knights with six goals while fellow senior Mila Sheeline added four. Freshman Michaela Michael contributed three. Martha Harding led Castilleja with three goals while Stephanie Merenbach added two.

Menlo started strong with four unanswered goals in the first 19 minutes, two by Brown and once each by Michael and Kacie Madeira. Harding scored her second goal with 8:33 left in the first half to bring the Gators to within 7-3.

During the next 1:12, however, Menlo scored three straight goals for a 10-3 lead and the Knights pulled away for a 13-4 halftime bulge.

Castilleja added goals from Harding, Natalie Morin and Charlotte Geaghan-Breiner in the second half but Menlo had the match under control all the way. Freshmen Brooke Bullington and Ali Kim contributed two goals each for the Knights.

Menlo will compete in the annual Western States Invitational on Saturday, this year being played on Treasure Island in San Francisco while the fields at Stanford are being redone.

Also entered is Palo Alto, which took Menlo to sudden-death overtime before dropping a thrilling 12-11 nonleague decision on March 31.

Clearly, the competition is getting better in girls' lacrosse, and Sacred Heart Prep now can proudly say it's a part of it.

In nonleague action on Wednesday, Menlo-Atherton made up an earlier rainout with St. Francis and came close to pulling off a big triumph before falling, 9-6, to the visiting Lancers on Wednesday. The Bears (3-9) got two goals from Higgitt and one goal each from Rodgers, Edwards, Diane Masket and Julia Farino in the tough setback.

Softball

With standout senior pitcher Sammy Albanese sitting out for undisclosed reasons, Castilleja suffered a 4-3 upset loss to host Menlo on Tuesday in a WBAL game. Albanese is the Gators' top pitcher and hitter and one of the top players in the Central Coast Section.

The loss was the Gators' first in league play and likely dropped them into a tie for first place with Mercy-Burlingame. Castilleja is now 3-1 in league (8-6-2 overall) after losing four games in the NorCal Classic in Tracy during the weekend. Albanese was on a senior trip to Southern California and missed the tourney. Perhaps, she did not play Tuesday because of that absence.

Also missing the tourney were Castilleja starting outfielders Tobi Amos (family emergency) and outfielder Catalina Rodriguez, who factured her right thumb in three places at practice last week.

Tuesday's loss was a costly one while moving Menlo (4-2, 6-2) into contention in the suddenly tight race.

Sophomore Aryana Yee took the mound in place of Albanese and suffered the loss, despite limiting the Knights to five hits. She also absorbed all four losses in the two-day tournament. Freshman Kelly McConnell picked up the win for Menlo, giving up two runs in the first but settling down after that. Rebecca Friedman's three-run homer in the second inning gave Menlo a 3-2 lead. McConnell scored the game-winner in the sixth.

Castilleja grabbed an early lead on RBI singles by Amy Yamamura and Annie Apffel.

In PAL Ocean Division action, Menlo-Atherton won its second straight game after 11 consecutive losses with a 15-0 blasting of host Jefferson on Tuesday.

The Bears (2-3, 2-11) were led by pitcher Tami Vujovich, who struck out 16 in the five-inning game while tossing a one-hitter. That one hit was a bunt single in the bottom of the fifth. The Bears did commit three errors, to ruin a near-perfect outing by Vujovich.

The Bears ripped 14 hits, with Seini MoiMoi getting three hits -- including a triple -- while driving in five runs. Katie Vallarino also had three hits (two of them doubles) with three RBI. Vujovich added two hits and two RBI as did Hannah Rosenfeld.

Track and field

Gunn's distance medley relay came up with the most outstanding local performance at the annual Arcadia Invitational on Saturday. The team of sophomore Kieran Gallagher, senior Sunny Margerum, junior Emma Dohner and junior Erin Robinson finished fourth in the invitational race in 12:03.15.

That time not only broke the school record of 12:12.16 from 2002 (and anchored by school distance standout Ruth Graham), but it also moved the Titans to No. 4 in the nation as the top four teams finished ahead of the previous national-leading time.

The time also is believed to be the No. 2 mark all-time in the Central Coast Section, second only to San Lorenzo Valley's national record in 2000.

Gallagher led off with a 3:39.2 for 1200 meters with Margerum following with a solid 58.4 for the 400. Dohner picked it up with a 2:21.3 for 800 meters and Robinson brought it home with a season best of 5:04.2 for the 1,600. First place was 11:54.75 by new national leader Redondo.

In two separate WBAL meets on Wednesday, Priory won at Menlo School while Sacred Heart Prep was second on its own track.

Priory won the WBAL No. 2 meet with 107 points as sophomore Kat Gregory won both the 1,600 meters (5:29.75) and 3,200 (11:30.25) for a tough double. Sophomore teammate Eugenia Jernick took the 100 (13.62) and 300 hurdles (53.20).

At SHP, the Gators were second with 90 points with Castilleja finishing fourth with 65.

Laura Swenson of Castilleja won the 1,600 in 5:44.61 while teammate Rachel Skokowski won the 800 in 2:24.67 and Emma Winer the 300 hurdles in 52.24. Sacred Heart Prep's Maggie Fong took the 100 (13.31) and 200 (27.69) with teammate Haley Gordon taking the discus (77-10). Pinewood's Angelina Mapa won the shot put at 28-6.

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