Friday, November 9, 2007

Northern California Athletes of the Week

Northern California Athletes of the Week
Harold Abend
Special to CalHiSports

We made a rare exception this week by naming two athletes from the same section, albeit each is from a completely different geographic setting.

One is a football player who has been nominated more than once this season, has a brother who leads a Pac-10 school in rushing but had his season cut short by injury, and after a top-notch performance against one of Northern California's top defensive teams, finally gets the nod from the committee with the deciding vote coming from Cal-Hi Sports Executive Editor Mark Tennis.

After crossing over a couple of Mt. Tamalpais foothills to interview our boys honoree at home, the caravan heads down the coast along Highway 1 to the Monterey Bay Peninsula to honor a young woman who will soon have a huge home-course advantage, and whose tools for her sport include names like Spoon, Niblick, Brassie, Baffy, Mashie, Cleek, Bulldog, Driver, Jigger, Benny and Sammy.

To see and talk with Darius Bell at home with his family in sleepy San Anselmo, one wouldn't think Darius was much different than any other high school senior – busy doing homework and working on the family computer while answering the constant ringing of his cell phone from friends calling.

However, get Bell out on a football field and this mild-mannered, well-spoken young man becomes an offensive machine who can also deliver bone-crushing tackles as a defensive back.

As a 6-1 216-pounder who often lines up alone in the Crusader backfield, opponents are pretty sure only a few things can happen and most of the time it's been bad for them. Either Bell will run the ball as a planned play, scramble and run, hand off on a reverse to teammates lined up as wing backs or launch passes to D1 prospect and the Bay Area's leading receiver Daniel Cannon (53 receptions, 1081 yards, 12 touchdowns), some of which travel 60-plus yards in the air.

The fact this finely honed athlete is doing his dandy work in the City at Riordan and not out in the Marin and Sonoma County suburbs where he grew up and still lives, is not only a testament to Darius, but to his entire family.

In order to get Darius across the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco at the wee hours of the morning, and not having him back home most nights until almost 9 pm, the Bells have sacrificed much to be sure the baby of the family receives the same opportunity as his three older sisters and two older brothers, including Kahlil, a former Marin Catholic (Kentfield) star and currently a junior at UCLA and the Bruins' leading rusher. Two two weeks ago, however, Kahlil tore his ACL and is lost for the rest of the year.

What Darius has done to show his gratitude for the sacrifices is take the bull or should we say the Crusaders by the horns and along with Cannon, has Riordan in a position to win a CCS championship in the medium schools division for the first time in many years.

"We're happy to have him and when he leaves we'll miss him a lot since our offense has been built around him and Daniel (Cannon)," head coach Mike Langridge told Cal-Hi Sports. "Darius is a great kid, works hard, is a great example to the other kids, and he hasn't disappointed us. From day one when he showed up, he clicked well and fit right in. I told the other coaches, that's the sign of a good leader. He walked right in and took charge."

Not only has Bell taken charge but he has put some big numbers on the board. This past week against a St. Francis defense that bottled up CCS leading rusher and former honoree Nick Kalpin, Darius threw for 295 yards and three touchdowns, ran in a two-point conversion and also rushed for 116 yards to give him 411 total yards in a 21-21 tie on the road in Mountain View.

For the season Bell has thrown for 1,667 yards with 15 touchdowns, a .677 completion percentage and 105 quarterback rating. As a runner, he has rushed for 586 yards (5.48 average per carry) with three touchdowns. On defense Darius has 40 tackles and a couple of sacks.

It's no wonder several schools including Villanova, Portland State, Sacramento State, Oregon and Colorado have expressed interest in having him in their offensive and possibly even defensive backfields.

While football is important, the other part of Darius' thankfulness to his family and the school that accepted him after two years at Sir Francis Drake (two blocks from the family home) is his desire to get the education needed to make something with his life.

"I'm in it for the love of the game and the education," said Bell who has his GPA up to nearly 3.0 and knows his grades are important for him to realize his dream of playing quarterback at a D1 school. "I want to go somewhere I can play quarterback. Just give me a shot like my brother."

Bell certainly has the support of his dad and mom who wandered in and out during our interview. His father, Mike, retired form the Sonoma County school system, played D1 basketball at Eastern Kentucky and wants to see his son achieve his goals. "We want to see Darius given the opportunity to prove himself as a quarterback at a major school," said the elder Bell.

It's not only his dad and brother Kahlil who were or are athletes. Mom Elizabeth, a 29-year veteran of the Sonoma and Marin County Superior Courts where she is a courtroom clerk, was a semi-pro softball player, and won two national championships as a shortstop with her Santa Rosa team.

Oldest brother Radshad, currently a Certified Public Accountant in Los Angeles, played basketball and football at Cardinal Newman back in the early 90s. Oldest sister Danielle, who played basketball at Drake, is currently working and going to Santa Rosa Junior College where she hopes to make the basketball team. Darius' other two sisters are Nerisa, who works and goes to Contra Costa College in San Pablo, and Lei, a freshman at Sonoma State.

Before the CCS playoffs begin, the Crusaders have a tough game upcoming against surging Valley Christian (San Jose) and the contest promises to be a fireworks display of big-play offense. In the ultra-tough WCAL, you can't look past anyone.

"We're happy to be in the playoffs but we're not satisfied. We know we have a CCS championship within our reach and the team is determined to make it happen," Bell said.

With Darius Bell lining up as a single-wing behind center, chances are he can and will make it happen.

Girls: Mina Harigae
(Robert Louis Stevenson, Pebble Beach)
In what may very well turn out to be one of the biggest understatements in the history of CIF California state girls' golf championship competition, our girls' honoree sheepishly told Cal-Hi Sports, "I probably have a big advantage over a lot of people. A home course advantage," said Mina Harigae (pronounced Mee-na Ha-ri-guy), who on Monday won the CIF girls' NorCal golf medalist honors after firing a 72 at the Spring Creek Golf and Country Club in Ripon.

What Harigae was referring to was the Dec. 15 state championship where she will be competing for medalist honors on her home course of Poppy Hills in Pebble Beach, a stone's throw from the prestigious Monterey Peninsula private college prep school she attends.

If Harigae can pull it off, the victory will be the ending of a high school career, but also a fitting stepping-stone to what may be a college and professional career that will have us all learning how to pronounce the name of this delightful and very talented young golfer whose parents comes from Japan.

"Mina is really a one-of-a-kind that comes along once in a lifetime," said long-time Stevenson coach and Monterey Peninsula Club head pro David Vivolo. "Not only is she an amazingly self-motivated young woman with tremendous golf ability, set goals that earned her a scholarship to Duke, could play pro right now, but she's a great teammate and well-liked, plus she's patient with other people and takes time to help them with their game. I really admire her. Look for her to be the next big star."

Speaking of teams and teammates, Mina has a great mate and best friend in Sydney Burlison, who herself received a scholarship to Stanford and helped Harigae and the Stevenson team to a second place finish in the NorCals behind St. Francis of Sacramento.

While the team, even though on its home course is not an overwhelming favorite to win the team title, Harigae, the No. 1 ranked junior golfer in the nation, already knows who her top competitor will most like be besides Burlison, since Mina has played with, beaten and is friends with the southland's top golfer, Jane Rah of Torrance, who is the favorite to win the SoCal Championship Nov. 12 at SCGA Golf Course in Murrieta.

When we asked coach Vivolo to give us a list of accomplishments for Mina we didn't realize how impressive her credentials actually were.

How about starting out with being the five-time California State Amateur Women's Champion, having won against women of all ages since she was 12 years old. Then there's the USGA Public Links Championship she won last summer, the Verizon Heritage Classic, numerous AJGA tournaments, plus she qualified and played in this past U.S. Women's Open in North Carolina and made the cut. And that's not all.

Mina made it to the semifinals of the U.S. Women's Amateur, won the Golf World West Coast Championship and was a member of the U.S. Jr. Solheim Cup this past month. Finally as a high-schooler, Mina won the CCS title in 2006 (she finished second this year with a 70 behind winner Burlison who shot a 68) and has won the Tri-County League title four years in a row.

Never, in the two-and-a-half plus years of this award, has there been an athlete honored whose first-class ticket to a pro career would seem to be paid in advance. "I knew from the time I was 12 or 13 I wanted to be a pro golfer and after college I plan on turning professional,' said Harigae, who has a 3.8 GPA and plans on studying History when she's not out hitting her Driver of Brassie.

One thing that caught our attention was the occupation of Mina's parents because we love Japanese food, especially sushi. Dad Yasunori and mom Masumi, own a restaurant in Monterey called Takara, where Yasunori is the sushi chef and Masumi also cooks.

Obviously, Mina learned to slice up opponents (not shots) from watching her dad's skillful hands required of a master sushi chef.

Next week out at Poppy Hills, Mina Harigae can bring home a big fish if she can medal at this years Girls' State Championship. If she does, yours truly may drive down to Monterey to celebrate and sip some premium cold sake at Takara Restaurant in Mina's honor.

Congratulations to Darius Bell and Mine Harigae from and

Honorable Mention
This week we expand the honorable mention section and even included some past winners who had gigantic efforts.

Tito Pica, football (De La Salle, Concord), Usua Amanam, football (Bellarmine, San Jose), Jake Davis, football (Novato), Jamie Jensen, football (Gilroy), C.J. Woodbury, football Foothill, Sacramento), Ronnie Thomas, football (Granite Bay), Mike Makela, football (Del Oro, Loomis), Kevin Rogers, football (Homestead, Cupertino), Nick Kalpin, football (Los Gatos), David Henderson, football (Lincoln, San Francisco), Tayathi Minkin, football (Stagg, Stockton)

Ashley Edwards, golf (Deer Valley, Antioch), Joy Kim, golf (Albany), Alexandra Groetsema, golf (Palo Alto), Tessa The, golf (Los Altos), Grace Na and Emily Childs, golf (Alameda), Jordan Ontiveras and Jane Lee, golf (Monte Vista, Danville), Alyssa and Kaitlyn Lo, water polo (Drake, San Anselmo).

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