Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - November 25, 2011

SHP's latest CCS title one for history books

Top-seeded Gators have a familiar finish as they win a fifth consecutive section championship, 11-4 over Los Altos

by Keith Peters

It was only a year ago that Sacred Heart Prep juniors Pippa Temple and Erin Sheridan helped make program history by leading the Gators win a fourth straight Central Coast Section Division II title, tying St. Francis (2000-03) for the most consecutive crowns.

For an encore in their senior year, Temple and Sheridan provided another historic footnote to cap their prep careers as the top-seeded Gators defeated No. 2-seeded Los Altos (19-8) to capture a fifth straight CCS Division II championship on Saturday at Independence High in San Jose.

"We lost an amazing group of seniors last year, including an All-American goalie," said Sacred Heart Prep Jon Burke, "but we filled those shoes and made a little history in the process."

Winning a fifth straight CCS title was the unstated goal this season.

"The girls knew about it, but we never talked about it," Burke said. "We always say we want to be the last team playing the Saturday before Thanksgiving."

That has been the case in all six years that Burke has been coaching, starting with a runner-up finish in 2006 followed by five straight titles. The Gators are 148-27 during that time, including a 24-5 mark this season.

It's a remarkable achievement, given the turnover of athletes each season. Losing goalie Catherine Donahoe to graduation last season, for example, thrust untested sophomore Kelly Moran into a position previously held by an All-American. Temple, Sheridan and fellow senior Clare Rudolph all returned, but other spots needed to be filled.

"Each year we have faced big losses to graduation — including the graduation of CCS MVP's like Pallavi Menon ('07), Vee Dunlevie ('08), Heather Smith ('09) and Catherine Donahoe ('10)," said Burke. "Despite this, we have remained a competitive program year in and out. I credit this to the athletes' dedication, strong work ethic and their ability to play as a team."

That certainly was the case this season as the Gators overcame two losses early in the season in the St. Francis Autumn Invitational and single losses in the Davis and NorCal tournaments, plus a loss to St. Francis in the WCAL playoff finale.

"We suffered some losses in October, but that helped us regroup," Burke said.

Just facing a high level of competition during the tournaments more than prepared the Gators for CCS, where they outscored the opposition in three matches by 46-12.

While the offense was solid once again Saturday as Temple scored five goals and sophomore Morgan McCracken added two, it was the Gators' defense that really shined.

"I can't emphasize the defensive job we did," Burke said. "Kelly Moran (with 13 saves) played great."

As did her teammates as Los Altos scoring leader Katy Schaefer was held scoreless, perhaps for the first time this season, while No. 2 scorer Olivia Santiago was limited to a pair of goals, one a 5-meter penalty shot with the match already decided in the final moments.

"It was our most spectacular defense of the season and it couldn't have come at a better time," Burke said.

This was the Eagles' first-ever appearance in the CCS finals while the Gators were making their seventh. Sacred Heart's familiarity of being in the finals once again showed as the Gators controlled the game's tempo.

Los Altos senior goalie Nicole Larsen, despite playing with a broken right hand, stood out for the Eagles with 17 saves — including a 5-meter penalty shot by Temple to start the game. Temple came back with two goals in the first quarter to stake the Gators to a 4-0 lead, and added back-to-back goals in the fourth quarter to help wrap things up at 10-2.

"Today," Burke said, "we arguably played our best game of the year, and you can't time it any better than that."

And for that, Temple and her fellow seniors are thankful.

"There are no words to describe just how proud I am of our class," said the Princeton-bound Temple, whose class went 95-22 in four seasons. "There have been so many ups and downs and we've always been able to end every season with a win. And that's just incredible."

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