By Keith Peters
Palo Alto Online Sports
A third straight victory and a second straight loss. That was the bottom line for two top-ranked teams at the Central Coast Section girls' water polo championships on Saturday at Santa Clara University.
No. 1 Sacred Heart Prep defended its Division II crown and captured its third consecutive section title with a 6-2 win over No. 3 St. Ignatius. And No. 1 Menlo-Atherton suffered its second consecutive overtime loss to St. Francis in the CCS finals, dropping a 12-11 heartbreaking match to the No. 2 Lancers.
Sacred Heart Prep (22-8) was expected to win and did, with a dominating defense and just enough offense.
"This is the one we've been talking about since last August," said SHP coach Jon Burke. "We talked about how this team really hadn't accomplished anything because we had lost a lot of players and this team was pretty young and new."
But, as Burke said, the players worked hard, bought into the program and it all paid off with a third straight title.
"This is huge for our program," said Burke, who loses only two seniors (Heather Smith and Lisa Rennels). "They earned this. This is what we focus on in the fall, getting to this game."
And then making the most of the opportunity, which SHP did.
"The field blocking was very effective," said Burke, who gladly accepted the ritual post-match dunking. "We tried to clamp down on their scorers. With this team, defense has been the main attack all season long."
The Gators missed some early opportunities before sophomore Erin Sheridan scored on a breakaway with 2:54 left in the opening period. With just 52 seconds left in the quarter, SHP took advantage of a 6-on-5 situation with junior Emily Parsons finding the net.
St. Ignatius got back a goal when junior Liz Rosen scored the first of her two goals with 3:32 remaining, but SHP's Heather Smith erased that and provided the eventual winning goal on another 6-on-5 advantage less than 20 seconds later for a 3-1 match.
Sacred Heart Prep scored four of its goals on power plays, with Smith scoring three of them. The Gators' defense did the rest, with junior goalie Catherine Donahoe stopping 10 shots, most of them right at her.
"We played great team defense," Burke said. "Every single time they took a shot it looked like we were taking the lanes away."
While SHP was heavily favored, SI brought in plenty of momentum after knocking off No. 2 Castilleja in the semifinals. The final matchup also was the fourth of the season between SHP and SI.
"They came into this game with great momentum," Burke said. "They played us hard in the WCAL semifinals and, it's hard to beat a team four times. We tried to get that out of the players' heads. This was just another game."
Well, sort of. Burke did get pushed into the pool and the SHP girls got to hoist another trophy and pose for postgame photos. For Smith and Rennels, they're probably used to it by now. Both were on the past two championship teams.
Smith said this title is the most special.
"We kept losing people to Division I schools and I was skeptical we could do it again this year," Smith said. "And, it's my senior year and my last game."
Smith said she did think the Gators had a decent chance, but a lot of things had to happen.
"We spent a lot of time working on defense," she said. And it paid off.
"For sure," she said. "It's real exciting."
For Burke, the title was special, as well.
"It gets harder every year to win," he explained. "Whether you're a first-time or second-time champion, you have to defend."
In a match similar to last season's division finale, second-seeded St. Francis upended No. 1-seeded Menlo-Atherton in overtime, 12-11, to win a second-straight section title on Saturday at Santa Clara University.
The Bears came into the finals riding a 25-game winning streak and ranked No. 1 in Northern California. M-A hadn't lost since September. The Lancers came in ranked No. 3 in NorCal, and having been beaten by M-A in the finals of the Amanda MacDonald Invitational earlier this year.
Menlo-Atherton grabbed a 9-8 lead on a goal by senior Anna Geiduschek with 1:40 left in regulation. The Lancers, however, took advantage of a 6-on-5 situation and and got a game-tying goal from Katherine Elward with 1:25 left to play.
St. Francis took a 10-9 lead in the first overtime on one of seven goals by Hathaway Moore. M-A senior Becca Dorst tied the game at 10 in the second extra period but Moore fired in another goal that appeared to ricochet off the head of M-A junior goalie Emily Dorst, who finished with 15 saves.
With only 43 seconds left to play and trailing by 11-10, a shot by Dorst was stopped. With time running out, M-A coach Chris Rubin had backup goalie Darya Sheikhrezai jump into the pool to stop the clock. It also cost the Bears a five-meter penalty shot, which Moore made for a 12-10 lead with 16 seconds left. Dorst scored with five seconds to play, but the Bears couldn't find a way to score again and dropped their second straight overtime decision to the Lancers in the CCS finals.
For the Bears, it was another tough season-ending defeat, made tougher by the fact eight players will be graduating -- including starters Becca Dorst, Vanessa Lane, Heather Bogott, Anna Geiduschek, and Sarah Winters.