With players from three Eastern European countries, one would think that the Woodside Priory boy's basketball team would have some difficulty communicating. Yet, the Panthers clearly speak only one language on the court and it translates into winning basketball.
Last season, Woodside Priory came out of nowhere and received widespread attention by rolling through the Private Schools Athletic League schedule with a perfect 16-0 mark, finishing second in the CCS Division V playoffs, and reaching the NorCal semifinals before losing and finishing 26-5.
This season, the Panthers haven't garnered quite the same attention of a season ago, but the results are the same.
With 10 players standing 6-foot-1 or taller with three over 6-7, Woodside Priory is blessed with an abundance of tall, versatile players. More important, the Panthers (12-0, 18-4) are on a roll. On Tuesday night, the Panthers won their 32nd consecutive PSAL game -- the streak started in 2006 -- and inched closer to a second straight PSAL crown with a 65-53 triumph over visiting Harker.
If Woodside Priory defeated Valley Christian-Dublin on Thursday and can knock off rival Sacred Heart Prep on Saturday (7 p.m.) at St. Joseph's School in Atherton, the Panthers will clinch another league title and move closer to earning a No. 1 or 2 seed for the CCS playoffs -- depending on where defending Division V champ Bridgemont fits in.
"We're more balanced than last year and we've really come together," said Woodside Priory coach Al Klein, who has only one senior starter on the roster. "We're just trying to win league and get a good playoff seed."
Gone from last season is do-everything guard Reggie Willhite, one of the best all-around players in the section. This season, in addition to returning 7-foot 1 Hungarian senior center Greg Somogyi, Klein added more international flair in 6-3 Lithuanian junior guard Ignas Pavilonis, 6-3 Hungarian guard Andras Helmeczi and 6-9 Bulgarian junior center Dinko Marshavelski. There's also 6-7 junior forward Tyler Starling, who has grown seven inches in just two years.
Students from all over the world have roamed the idyllic campus at Woodside Priory for years, so having players from different origins is nothing new at the tiny Portola Valley school.
"Our dorm makes us an international community," said Klein.
Klein regularly rotates his versatile and deep personnel, so everyone who steps on the court is fairly fresh. At one time, Klein can have a front line that averages 6-10 or go small and quick with 6-2 junior guard Kyle Berka, 5-10 junior guard Servando Barriga and 5-9 junior guard Nate Feldman. Klein has the luxury of mixing size with speed.
On Tuesday, Woodside Priory hit an eye-popping 24 of 37 shots (65 percent) from the field and five of nine three-point attempts (55 percent) in its win over outsized Harker (9-3), which came into the game on a nine game win streak. The Panthers made their first six and 10 of 12 attempts from the field.
Woodside Priory held a commanding 21-9 lead after one quarter and increased the margin to 35-20 at the half by making 15 of 23 field goals and utilizing an effective 2-2-1 fullcourt press. Scrappy Harker also shot well, making 18 of 41 shots and trimmed a 55-33 deficit with 4:30 remaining to 56-47 with 1:50 left.
Marshavelski (sore foot) and Somogyi (slight groin pull) were on the bench when Harker made its late move. With the big guys on the floor together, which has been rare this season but needs to happen, the Panthers are indeed formidable and a force to be reckoned with in the postseason.
Speaking of the postseason, both the Menlo and Menlo-Atherton boys' teams are headed there once again.
Menlo (8-1, 18-6) clinched no worse than a tie for the PAL South Division regular-season title with a 51-44 victory over host Woodside on Wednesday. The Knights got 17 points from junior center Will Tashman and 16 from Garrett Cohen.
Menlo-Atherton took over sole possession of second place in the PAL South with a 52-38 victory over host Carlmont on Wednesday. The win moved the Bears to 7-2 (15-9 overall). Peter DeFilipps led the Bears with 18 points with Sam Knapp contributing 13.
In perhaps one of the more surprising games of the season, the Gunn boys shocked first-place Cupertino, 38-34, in a SCVAL De Anza Division showdown on Tuesday night in the Titans' gym.
The victory moves Gunn (6-3, 14-8) to within a game of the Pioneers (8-2) and solidifies second place for the Titans. Richard Wiley tossed in 13 points for Gunn, which limited Cupertino to just 12 first-half points with its excellent defense. Ryan Miller completed a three-point play with 1:02 left to give Gunn a 36-31 advantage.
Also in the De Anza Division, senior Dom Powell scored 20 points to help Palo Alto pull away from a one-point halftime lead and register a 48-37 victory over visiting Los Gatos on Wednesday night.
The Vikings (6-4, 14-8), who trail both Cupertino (8-2) and Gunn (6-3) in the division race, played without senior guard Mike Scott for the second straight game. Scott is still hobbled by an ankle injury. Sophomores Joseph Lin and Kevin Brown combined for 20 points to aid the Vikings' cause.
Elsewhere earlier in the week:
Sacred Heart Prep kept its slim title hopes alive in the PSAL with a 62-39 thumping of host St. Lawrence in Santa Clara.
The Gators maintained their second-place standing at 10-2 (13-7 overall) while setting the stage for Saturday night's showdown against first-place Woodside Priory (12-0, 18-4) at St. Joseph's School in Atherton at 7 p.m. The game was moved because the St. Joe's gym can accommodate a larger crowd.
SHP first had to defeat visiting King's Academy on Thursday to keep Saturday's game important. Twelve Gators scored against St. Lawrence, with senior Bryan Harris leading the way with 12 points. SHP grabbed a 36-14 halftime lead and coasted.
In the Christian Private Schools Athletic League, junior forward Ivan Prema scored 22 points and grabbed five rebounds to lead Eastside Prep to a 73-56 victory over host North Valley Baptist. Freshman guard Giles Chapman added 12 points while junior guard DJ Williams contributed 10 points and eight assists as the Panthers improved to 10-2 in league (15-9 overall).