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    • The Main Building of Sacred Heart Schools

Sacred Heart Prep boys, girls sweep first-ever CCS lacrosse finals in a sign of game’s growth

By EVAN WEBECK | ewebeck@bayareanewsgroup.com | Bay Area News Group
Gator girls claim inaugural CCS crown three days after the boys: ‘It’s so exciting to be the first’
By sweeping the inaugural Central Coast Section lacrosse finals, Sacred Heart Prep hopes to help establish California as an equal to the sport’s traditional hotbed on the opposite coast — and secure its place among the region’s elite high school programs.

On Thursday evening, the Gators girls claimed the CCS crown, 13-1, over a hobbled Archbishop Mitty, three days after the boys upset St. Ignatius, the top-ranked team on the West Coast, for the title on the other side.

“It’s so exciting to be the first (CCS champion),” said girls coach Wendy Kridel, who completed her sixth season at Sacred Heart Prep. “Being the first is part of what drew me to California. To see the game grow and to make that happen was pretty incredible.”

The Gators girls entered the tournament as the top seed and proved as much with none of their three opponents coming within 10 goals on their path to the first-ever CCS title. Junior Ellie Noto had a “great game” in the final, Kridel said, and senior Genna Gibbons played a critical role throughout the tournament, helping the Gators come up with more than two-thirds of the faceoffs she took.

“Literally, every time we scored, we’d get the ball back again,” Kridel said. “That’s critical. That means we’re not really giving our opponents much chance to get the ball.”

Kridel headed west six years ago after a successful career in the Baltimore area that spanned two decades; she led the U.S. under-19 team to three championships and an undefeated record between 1999 and 2007, in addition to a number of high school championships. She left for a job in club lacrosse but said she was quickly drawn back to the school campus by Sacred Heart Prep.

All along, there was the allure of finding a foothold for the game on the West Coast.

In the decade from 2009 to 2019, the most recent year of data. available from the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), girls participation in lacrosse in California more than doubled and over a hundred more schools across the state offer the sport to either gender.

“I still feel like in some ways the sport in the area is still in the early stages,” Kridel said.

Sacred Heart Prep’s opponent, Archbishop Mitty, is one of the schools to add girls lacrosse in the last decade. Its program started eight years ago, and coach Kyle Kennedy took over four seasons ago. He said he’s trying to emulate the success at Sacred Heart Prep and St. Ignatius, which reached the boys final and opted not to compete in girls CCS.

“I think it’s fantastic for the West Coast,” Kennedy said. “A lot of times when you think of lacrosse, you think Maryland, Boston, North Carolina. But West Coast lacrosse is really coming on the map. It’s nice to be considered among that upper echelon of programs, and that’s what my goal was: to build a program to compete against the S-Is and the SHPs.”

Nationally ranked St. Ignatius was favored to take home the first CCS championship on the boys side, but second-seeded Sacred Heart Prep had other ideas. St. Ignatius had beaten the Gators twice previously but wouldn’t hold another lead after falling behind just before halftime in the CCS final, which ended in a 17-8 SHP victory.

Senior Billy Barnds found the back of the net on the momentum-shifting goal at the end of the third quarter and senior William Van Dyke won crucial faceoffs down the stretch as Sacred Heart Prep ended the game on a 13-2 run.

Hobbled by injuries all season, the Gators were only at full strength for the final games of their championship run, coach Chris Rotelli said.

“I would take this team, healthy, with the way we played in the CCS championship game, against just about any team in the country,” Rotelli said. “There’s a lot of people who were shocked to see us win that game by nine goals. … I think St. Ignatius was very surprised by what happened, too.”

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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