Aragon High School hosted its Central Coast Section championship teams for a pizza party in the gym Wednesday afternoon.
Not surprisingly, there was a lot of pizza. The Dons had a historic 2018-19 season, with section titles in girls’ volleyball, girls’ basketball and softball. Not only was it the first championships in all three sports for the school, Aragon became just the second public school team to win three girls’ titles during one school year. Leland accomplished the feat during the 1993-94 season, while Mitty has done it seven times, most recently in 2018.
“There is tremendous satisfaction. I care a lot (about the success of all athletic programs at the school),” said Aragon athletic director Steve Sell. “We’re as competitive with the girls as the boys in terms of how badly we want our teams to win.”
Making the accomplishment even more impressive is that all three crowns were won with essentially three different, distinct rosters. This was not a case of having one core group of players moving from one sport to the next. There was very little overlap of athletes playing various sports. The only players to win a pair of titles were junior Lydia Manu, who was team captain for both the volleyball and basketball teams, and freshman Megan Grant, a key contributor for the basketball team and a focal point of the softball team. Not one athlete played all three sports.
“As a father and a teacher, it’s super important for the community to see girls athletically on a par with boys,” Sell said. “It’s probably one of the most important things an athletic director can do for a school. … To demonstrate and show that girls have as much competitive spirit as boys do and to be treated as hardcore, competitive athletes.”
Another interesting tidbit about the Dons: while all three won section titles, none of them won a Peninsula Athletic League championship. The volleyball team, coached by Aragon alumna Kelsey Stiles, went 12-2 to finish a game behind Bay Division champion Menlo-Atherton. The basketball team, coached by another Dons’ alum in Sam Manu, went 10-2 to finish one game behind South Division champ Sequoia. The softball team, guided by Roger Miller, went 10-4 to finish in a tie for second place with San Mateo, both two games back of champion Carlmont.
The Aragon volleyball team had been building to its title. The Dons, who had not been in a CCS title game since 2002, had advanced to the semifinals in each of the last two seasons, getting eliminated by Presentation both times.
This past season, Aragon finally got through Presentation in a five-set thriller, before sweeping past Mountain View for the championship.
Much like the volleyball team, the Dons’ basketball squad set the tone for their championship by making it to the 2018 finals — the Dons’ first finals appearance since going to back-to-back title games in 2004 and 2005. After earning the No. 2 seed in the Division II bracket, the Dons rolled past Woodside in a quarterfinal game before holding off Leland in the semifinals, 58-46, and Lynbrook in the finals, 53-48.
The Dons’ softball championship came virtually out of the blue. The Dons had won only one game during the 2016 season and while they did hit the talent jackpot with freshmen Grant and Olivia DiNardo, it’s very seldom a team wins a title the first time out.
But Aragon relied on lucky No. 7 through the first three rounds of the Division I bracket, as the No. 3 seed posted a 7-3 win over Alvarez, followed that with a 7-4 win over Gilroy and scored seven more times in a come-from-behind, 7-5 win over San Mateo in the semifinals.
The Dons didn’t quite reach the seven-run mark in the finals against Watsonville, but six runs was enough in a 6-1 championship victory.
“It’s funny how things work,” Sell said. “Sometimes you just get lucky. Sometimes it’s just serendipity. Sometimes [stuff] just falls your way.”
More so than the athletic reputation winning CCS championships brings to the school, Sell is more excited about seeing the empowerment of female athletes. His daughter, Maria Sell, is a standout water polo player and the reigning Girls’ Water Polo Player of the Year.
Years before his daughter was born, however, Sell attended a talk by Donna Lopiano of the Women’s Sports Foundation, who is a member of 13 halls of fame, including the National Sports Hall of Fame and National Softball Hall of Fame. Sell was working toward his masters in athletic administration at St. Mary’s College in the mid-1990s and that speech stuck with him as he continues to champion female athletics.
“ [Lopiano] gave a talk about the importance of athletics for women. … That just resonated with me. I haven’t forgotten,” Sell said. “When you read about all the stuff kids are going through … for a group of girls to walk around campus with their shoulders back and be as proud as they can be, that’s huge. The more kids who can feel self-empowered, we’re better off.”