Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - November 18, 2011

It'll be a busy day for these SHP teams

Three of four Sacred Heart Prep teams playing Saturday will be competing for section championships

by Keith Peters

For one who likes to support his teams as much as possible, Sacred Heart Prep Athletic Director Frank Rodriguez will be a busy man on Saturday with four of his squads participating in Central Coast Section playoffs — three of them in championships.

If everything works out as planned with no overtimes, Rodriguez just might be able to watch all four. But, it will take a bit of driving.

The top-seeded Sacred Heart Prep girls' water polo team will go after a record fifth straight CCS Division II title on Saturday morning, taking on No. 2 seed Los Altos at Independence High in San Jose at 10 a.m.

Following that match at 11:30 a.m., the top-seeded Sacred Heart Prep boys' water polo team also will take on Los Altos, seeded No. 3, in the CCS Division II title match in the same pool. The Gators are looking for a fifth section crown.

At that point, Rodriguez will have to put the pedal to the metal and head back to school to catch the No. 4-seeded Gators' football team hosting No. 5 Scotts Valley in a CCS Division IV opener that starts at 1 p.m.

Once that game finishes, Rodriguez will head back to Independence to watch the Gators' top-seeded girls' volleyball team take on No. 2 Soquel in the CCS Division IV championship match at 4:30 p.m.

"I will be at water polo for both games and be a bit late for football (last year I got there at the end of the 1st quarter)," Rodriguez said. "I'll then head back down to Independence for volleyball. This is the same schedule I used last year (the first year I missed the boys' CCS championship water polo game to get back here to oversee our first-ever home CCS football game).

"It is a crazy day for sure but one we feel so fortunate to experience . . . several of our "Gator Nation" students/parents/fans will be hustling to all four events, so I'm nothing special."

St. Francis is the only other CCS school that has four teams playing in the section playoffs this weekend (football, volleyball and two water polo squads), but only three teams will be playing Saturday. Rodriguez has all four on the same day.

Two SHP teams put that scenario in motion with victories on Wednesday.

With senior Pippa Temple pouring in seven goals, the SHP girls' water polo team advanced to the CCS Division II championship match with a 17-5 dunking of No. 4 Burlingame in the section semifinals at Gunn High. Bridgette Harper added four goals and sophomore goalie Kelly Moran had 13 saves for the Gators (23-5). Los Altos (19-7) will be playing in only its first CCS title match. The Eagles advanced with a 13-10 win over No. 3 St. Ignatius.

"We're excited to play in the finals on Saturday," said SHP Jon Burke, who in his six years with the Gators is 147-27 with six straight appearances in the CCS division finals. "We've prepared for this opportunity and we're hoping to play up to our potential.

"We're going to need to play great defense against Los Altos. They have a number of scoring threats. Our counter-attack will be important, as well. We have to use our team speed and conditioning for four quarters."

The Sacred Heart Prep volleyball team will play for a third straight CCS Division IV championship on Saturday after sweeping aside No. 5 seed Harbor, 25-21, 25-19, 25-16 in the semifinals on Wednesday at Menlo School. The top-seeded Gators (23-6) will face No. 2 Soquel (30-4), which will be making its first appearance in any CCS title match since 1992.

Sacred Heart Prep, which has won 12 section titles and reached the finals 15 times since 1988, got 12 kills and five blocks from junior Ellie Shannon while senior Jesse Ebner added nine kills and six blocks in the quick victory. Senior Olivia Bertolacci had nine digs while Helen Gannon played well in the back row as a defensive specialist.

On Tuesday, the Sacred Heart Prep boys' water polo team overcame a one-goal deficit with under five minutes to overtake No. 4 Soquel, 16-13, and advance to the CCS Division II finals.

The Gators (18-10) will play No. 3 seed Los Altos (20-5) for the title on Saturday at Independence High. This will be SHP's seventh-straight appearance in the finals. The Eagles upset No. 2 seed and defending champion Menlo School in the other semifinal, 11-8.

SHP coach Brian Kreutzkamp is hoping for healthier players come game time.

"We are very under the weather," he said. "We had six guys miss practice the day before this (semifinal) game, and (goalie) Will (Runkel) is certainly sick. So, our game plan for Saturday is to get healthy and be at 100 percent physically, first and foremost.

"Los Altos has two big, strong 2-meter men in Orton and Warmoth that we will need to stop. Although they have less weapons offensively than Soquel does, their team defense is very strong."

Against Soquel, Sacred Heart trailed 13-12 in the fourth quarter before junior Zach Churukian tied the match and then scored again for the eventual winning goal. Senior Max McKelvey and junior Bret Hinrichs tallied insurance goals after that to close the deal. Michael Holloway scored three times for SHP.

Sophomore Harrison Enright kept the Gators in the match early with six goals while Runkel came up with 10 saves. SHP scored six goals in the final period to avoid the upset. Soquel also pushed the Gators to the limit in last year's semifinals before losing, 12-11.

In other CCS playoff action this week:

Girls' volleyball

Menlo School saw its season end in a five-set loss to No. 2-seeded Soquel in the CCS Division IV semifinals in the Knights' gym on Wednesday. The No. 3-seeded Knights (24-8) wrapped up a fine season despite a 25-12, 24-26, 25-20, 22-25, 16-14 setback.

"After our first set when nerves got the best of us, we started making big plays," said Menlo first-year coach Atlee Hubbard. "We won a lot of long rallies which gave us a lot of momentum."

Sophomore Maddie Huber paced Menlo in all aspects, collecting 19 kills, 18 digs and three blocks. Natalie Roy, the team's lone senior, had seven kills and 13 digs despite playing with the flu. Sophomore middle blocker Morgan Dressel had seven kills and four blocks and sophomore libero Melissa Cairo picked up 23 digs and two aces. Freshman Elisa Merten finished with 41 assists, five blocks and a pair of aces.

Menlo held a 6-2 lead in the fifth set and it was 14-14 following Huber's final kill. The Knights followed with a service error and Soquel scored the final point on a dink at the net.

Boys' water polo

Palo Alto saw its solid season end in a 16-5 loss to No. 2 seed Bellarmine in the Central Coast Section Division I boys' water polo semifinals on Wednesday at Serra High. The No. 6-seeded Vikings (17-13) fell behind by 5-1 after one quarter and trailed 8-1 at the half to the Bells (19-9), who will play No. 1 St. Francis (an 11-5 winner over Leland) in the CCS finals on Saturday at Independence High at 2:30 p.m.

Sophomore Will Conner and freshman Nelson Perla-Ward each scored twice for the Vikings with senior Aaron Zelinger adding one. Zelinger is one of only four seniors on the team. The others playing in their final match were goalie Daniel Armitano, Peter Rockhold and Ethan Mellberg.

A rematch of last season's Division II final was wiped out by Los Altos in the second semifinal on Tuesday at Serra, which saw Menlo coach Jack Bowen's march toward a milestone end.

While Bowen will win his 300th game next season after improving his 12-year record with the Knights to 297-76, Menlo could have added as many as two more victories to Bowen's total this season until Tuesday's loss.

The defending champion Knights (17-9), who beat Los Altos in last season's semifinals (18-6), couldn't do it again as Menlo gave up more than 10 goals for only the third time this season. Despite holding a 7-4 halftime lead, the Knights' inexperience — Menlo lost five of seven starters off its 2010 championship team — showed in the second half as the Eagles outscored the Knights in the final period, 4-0.

Los Altos grabbed the lead at 9-8 with barely three minutes to play before extending its lead. Menlo seniors Nick Hale and Jack Lucas each tallied three goals and senior goalie Connor Dillon came up with nine saves.

Menlo had reached the finals in 13 of the previous 14 years. Saturday's finale will be only the third time in nine years that SHP and Menlo have not met.

Girls' water polo

Senior Elizabeth Anderson scored 132 goals this season for Gunn. Only one, however, came in Tuesday night's 15-9 loss to No. 2 Leland in the CCS Division I semifinals at Gunn High.

Anderson, the key to the Titans' offense all season, was held in check by the Chargers. While seniors Missy Barr and Soumya Kannan each came through with three goals each for the No. 3-seeded Titans (21-7), Leland (23-5) rode six unanswered goals into the lead and ended Gunn's season in the semifinals for the second straight year.

"This was obviously not the way we drew it up, and I'm very sad this team won't get to play together again," said Gunn coach Mark Hernandez. "But, Leland deserves all the credit in the world. They played an excellent game. They came out aggressive and were relentless on offense, and remarkably quick on defense.

"On a different night, I know we could have beaten them. But, they did what they had to do and were the better team."

The Menlo-Atherton and St. Francis girls' water polo teams, meanwhile, met the three previous seasons in the CCS Division I finals with all three matches decided by just one goal.

That was not the case in their fourth meeting as the No. 1-seeded Lancers (21-6) handed the No. 4 Bears (14-11) a 9-4 defeat in the section semifinals on Tuesday at Gunn High. The loss ended M-A's streak of four straight appearances in the finals.

M-A grabbed an early 2-0 lead on goals by senior Danielle Flanagan and sophomore Jessica Heilman and senior Marie Popp scored twice after that, but a fifth straight goal by Nikole Ferrari gave the Lancers the lead for good at halftime, 6-4. The Bears were held scoreless in the second half, thus ending the season of their nine seniors. M-A sophomore goalie Sierra Sheeper had nine saves.

Girls' tennis

Menlo School wrapped up its season with an 11-5 loss to top seed Monta Vista in the CCS tournament semifinals Monday at Courtside Club in Los Gatos. The No. 4-seeded Knights finished with a 20-5 overall mark.

The Knights faced Monta Vista (23-0) three times during the season, but the third time still wasn't a charm for Menlo.

"It was hard-fought by the Knights, but Monta Vista was too experienced for us," said Menlo coach Bill Shine, who wrapped up his 17th season with the Knights and is 373-65 during that time in dual matches. "We showed a lot of pride and never gave up, but to no avail."

Shine said he noticed improvement by his team over the two previous losses to Monta Vista.

"The matches were a lot closer, the games were a lot closer. It was more competitive," he said.

Menlo freshman Liz Yao won a pair of matches in the three-singles, three-doubles round-robin format, including a 7-6 (10-8) match that went one hour, 45 minutes with her team cheering her on. With the Knights down 5-1, they rallied to pull closer in the second round.

"It was a really good effort," Shine added. "The girls saw that match and said, 'Let's go.' After that, to get five of the last 11 sets, for them to pull that off was great."

Menlo loses only one senior, Kacie Madeira, who played at No. 3 singles on Monday. The Matadors, however, also had only one senior and will be the team to beat once again next season.

Junior Giannina Ong and the team of junior Laura Gradiska and sophomore Christine Eliazo next will play in the CCS individual tournament in singles and doubles that begin Monday at Courtside.

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