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Cal-Hi Sports names Gators Division IV state program of the year

Nathan Mollatt, San Mateo Daily Journal
Cal-Hi Sports has named SHP it's Division IV State School of the Year!

Get the right coach, the right talent and have the stars align and just about any high school team is capable of accomplishing greatness.

It’s much tougher to get that across an entire athletic department, which makes Sacred Heart Prep’s accomplishment that much greater.

Thursday, Cal Hi Sports — the official record keeper of sports in the state of California — named SHP its Division IV state school of the year.

It is the second time in five years the Gators have earned the honor, being named Division IV school of the year following the 2014-15 season.

“It’s a real nice honor. It’s great to get a little good news, especially the way the last months have gone,” said Frank Rodriguez, SHP assistant principal of athletics. “It’s a testament to the coaches and kids who worked so hard this past year. It’s nice to see their efforts recognized.”

The Gators had a lot of success through the fall and winter months and, if history is any indication, they were poised for more before the bulk of the spring season was canceled because of the coronavirus.

It was a disappointing end to an otherwise successful school season. In the fall, both the boys’ and girls’ water polo teams captured West Catholic Athletic League crowns and went on to win CCS titles, with the girls winning its first Open Division crown and advancing to the Division I Nor Cal finals.

Joining them was the girls’ volleyball team. After finishing in a tie for second place in the West Bay Athletic League, SHP advanced to the finals of both the CCS Division IV bracket and the Division IV Nor Cal regional. The girls’ cross country team, led by a second-place finish from Luci Lambert in the Division IV race, qualified for the state meet. The football team finished second in Peninsula Athletic League Bay Division play and advanced to the semifinals of the Division II tournament.

In the winter, all four sports — boys’ and girls’ basketball and soccer — advanced to the Nor Cal tournament. Both boys’ and girls’ basketball qualified for the CCS Open Division. The girls’ soccer team won the CCS Division IV bracket, while the boys’ soccer team completed its second straight unbeaten regular-season and qualified for the CCS Open Division bracket as well, making it to the championship game.

“It obviously starts at the top. We have a tremendous administration [that] believes in athletics. When you have that, it trickles down to everything else,” said Tony Martinelli, boys’ varsity basketball coach for the last 13 seasons and the school’s boys’ athletic director.

“That’s part of what has kept me at Sacred Heart so long is the commitment to athletics.”

SHP first rose to prominence in the 1990s as the Mike Ciardella-led girls’ basketball team was a state power. From 1993 to 1997, the Gators won five straight CCS titles, while winning four state championships — a pair in each Division I and Division V.

Lamont Quattlebaum took over in 1999 and went on to add four more CCS crowns.

In the mid-1990s, Juan Camahort turned the boys’ soccer program into a CCS Division III power. From 1988 to 2008, Division III boys’ soccer was played in the fall, instead of the winter. Camahort won five CCS titles between 2000 and 2006, while appearing in the championship game six more times.

As the boys’ soccer run was coming to an end, the school’s water polo program took off. Under the guidance of Brian Kreutzkamp on the boys’ side and Jon Burke on the girls’ side, the Gators dominated CCS and continue to do so. Kreutzkamp has led the boys’ team to nine straight CCS title and 10 in the last 11 years. The girls’ team, now under the guidance of Kreutzkamp’s former assistant Jamie Frank, led the Gators back to the top as they captured their first CCS Open Division title this past season after seeing a streak of 10 straight titles broken in 2017.

Amidst polo’s rise to power, the SHP football team rose through the PAL ranks to become one of the best teams in the state. The Gators won five CCS titles from 2010 to 2015, including the 2014 Open Division crown, and advancing to 2013 state championship game.

“We (the coaches) all have that standard of excellence. Water polo has set the tone for that,” Martinelli said. “When you have that (kind of success), every program strives to have that.”
Rodriguez, who took over the athletic department beginning the 2006-07 season, said he’s most proud of seeing the entire athletic program rise to among the best in the state, instead of just having one or two teams dominating.

“Seeing that they are able to compete over a wide range of programs (is great),” Rodriguez said. “It’s a real testament to the type of kid who comes to Sacred Heart. They work really hard, they celebrate team accomplishment more than individual accomplishment. … They have really learned to play for that person next to them.”

There is a perception that because it’s a private school, student-athletes have an advantage over public school programs. That they are the proverbial “rich kids” who have everything handed to them. While many do come from money, it does a disservice to the kids who put in as much work and energy as anyone else.

“That’s the perception we’re always fighting. … I think our kids don’t get enough credit. … The ‘X’ factor is their work ethic. They’re commitment in the classroom extends to the field, as well,” Martinelli said. “Just because you have advantages doesn’t mean you don’t make the most of the opportunity.

“Their chance to go out and compete … is an opportunity to show they are more than just [the perception].”

All of the Gators’ success, however, has led Cal-Hi Sports to move SHP’s program into a different classification beginning next year.

“I think it’s part of the spirit of the school. You’re always trying to get to what’s next,” Martinelli said. “Just getting into Division 4 wasn’t good enough. [The players] wanted to get into the Open Division. I think that’s what keeps everyone working so hard.”

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Founded by the Society of the Sacred Heart, SHS is a Catholic, independent, co-ed day school for students in preschool through grade 12