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Ciarelli strong, sure

WEIGHTLIFTING: Stephanie Ciarelli will accompany three Newport Harbor athletes to a national competition.

June 29, 2007|By Soraya Nadia McDonald

When she's standing with Newport Harbor High's strapping football coaches, Stephanie Ciarelli becomes a dwarf.

She's the smallest one of the bunch, a petite redhead with close-cropped hair and a tattoo circling her left ankle.

But Ciarelli doesn't have to cut an imposing figure to command the attention or respect of Newport Harbor's football players.

There are titles — Coach, Your Highness, both of which she prefers over "ma'am" — to take care of that.

Monday morning, the strength and conditioning coach stood in the weight room surveying her latest charges: the freshman class of the Sailors' football team, fresh-faced and barely removed from eighth grade.

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"You guys look spiffy. Do you feel spiffy? Do you feel like a sailor," Ciarelli asked as the boys filed past her in matching blue and grey Under Armour warmups.

They sat on the floor with their eyes locked on Ciarelli as she explained the training regimen.

Ciarelli, a regional coach for USA Weightlifting, is entering her third season as the strength and conditioning coach for the Newport Harbor football team. She's accompanying three students to Springfield, Mo. for the school age national weightlifting championships, which start today and end Sunday.

Greg Gute, Chris Gute, and Zach Moghaddam all started training under Ciarelli using PVC pipe to learn the correct way to perform the snatch and the clean and jerk, the two methods used in Olympic-style weightlifting.

Before anyone ever picks up so much as an ounce of metal, Ciarelli uses the lightweight pipe to teach the highly technical nature of Olympic lifting.

Greg Gute and Moghaddam will be sophomores in the fall. Chris Gute, who will be a junior, finished fourth at last year's national championship, the first one he'd ever been to.

"He's been pretty determined," Ciarelli said. "He's got a really good shot of doing much better. He's got a shot at winning this one, and if not, then medaling."

Ciarelli is down-to-earth and pleasant. She joked with one of the freshmen who addressed her as "ma'am."

"Don't call me that," she said, grinning. "It's 'Your Highness.' "

She's serious about the upkeep of her sanctuary, the weight room, and she's a football nut. Nothing about her says "former high school cheerleader," but that's what she is.

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