by Tom Hoglund
It will be a tripleheader of lacrosse championships matches on Saturday at Palo Alto High. Appropriately enough, the host Vikings will be playing in two of the finales.
The top-seeded Paly girls will face No. 3 St. Francis in the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League title match at 11 a.m., followed by the Paly boys against Mountain View in their SCVAL finale at 1 p.m. The Menlo girls, who routed Castilleja, 20-7, in the semifinals, will get the busy day under way in the West Bay Athletic League championship against Burlingame at 9 a.m.
While the Menlo girls will be defending and the Paly girls -- they won a semifinal on Wednesday -- playing for their first title, the big surprise among the finalists has to be the Paly boys. The Vikings, in only their first year of playing, shocked perennial champ Menlo, 11-10, in overtime on Thursday in the semifinals in Atherton. Mountain View eliminated Los Gatos, 9-5, in the other semi.
"One more to go!" Paly coach Craig Conover told his players after the thrilling victory that saw the Vikings score three goals in the final 1:15 of regulation before winning it in OT.
The unusual matchup paired SCVAL De Anza Division champ Menlo against El Camino Division champ Paly (16-5). The Knights went 10-0 in league while the Vikings were 9-1. It was a showdown that most likely should have been for the title.
Both teams played like the match was for everything as they battled evenly throughout in what appeared reminiscent of the April 20 encounter between the schools when Menlo won, 13-11. Paly's hopes looked shaky again when Menlo standout middie Kyle Bullington scored his fourth goal with 2:16 to play, for a 10-7 margin.
Conover, however, had a different message for his players this time.
"It's only three goals," he said, "We can do this."
Many of the Vikings kept the faith. They knew Conover from NCJLA club lacrosse, where in three of the past four years he has coached his teams to playoff wins against top-seeded opponents. When Paly freshman Jonny Glazier passed to attackman Zach Spain, and Spain had time and room to rifle in his second goal of the game, there was only 1:15 left but the 10-8 Menlo lead seemed a little less secure.
The Vikings won the ensuing faceoff, but a quick turnover gave the ball to Menlo goalie Grant Evans, who had an excellent game with 12 saves. With a leaping, one-handed block, however, Spain knocked down Evans' clearing throw, gained possession and passed to fellow attackman Cory Valenti, who netted it for the second Palo Alto goal in 26 seconds. Now there were 49 seconds left and the Knights' lead seemed very fragile.
With momentum and rousing fan support behind them, the Vikings ended up with possession after a loose-ball push was called on the Knights during the ensuing faceoff. With the clock winding down, Paly middie Kris Hoglund probed the Knights' defense left, then right, before passing to fellow middie Kevin Proceviat. The timekeeper started counting down "10, 9..." as Proceviat drove toward the crease. As the count hit "4, 3," Proceviat managed an awkward, falling, backhanded pass to Spain, who snared the ball and bounced a shot past Evans for the tying score with two seconds remaining. The Vikings bench and fans erupted.
Palo Alto's adrenaline continued into the sudden victory ("golden goal") overtime period. Hoglund got a rare faceoff win (the Knights won 15 of 23 at the line), and set up Paly's offense. He ripped an overhand shot that was checked and sailed wide, but Palo Alto kept the ball for another chance. Solid defense led to a ground ball scooped up by Bullington, who sprinted downfield as Menlo hopes soared. Freshman's Wiley Osborne's shot was checked, however, and Paly regained possession.
When a Menlo check caused a loose-ball scramble to the right of the cage, Proceviat claimed the ground ball and fired a pass to Hoglund, unguarded in front of the cage and Evans. Hoglund faked low and buried the ball in the upper left corner, to end the game and Menlo's undefeated SCVAL season campaign.
Bullington was high-point man for the day, with four goals and an assist for the Knights (14-6). Fellow seniors Chris Brown and Chris Kvamme scored two goals and an assist in their last game for Menlo, while Osborne added two goals. The Vikings were paced by sophomore Hoglund and junior Spain, with three goals and an assist each. Junior Proceviat had the two key assists that sent the game into overtime, and a goal, while Glazier and junior Valenti each had a goal and an assist. Paly also got a goal each from senior Spencer Sims, and junior Brian Keohane.
In the WBAL, Menlo (16-4) had expected to face No. 2 seed Sacred Heart Prep (14-10) in the finals, but the Gators were upended by No. 3 Burlingame, 8-7. It was SHP's third-straight loss to the Panthers, including two losses during the regular season.
Thus, the Knights come into the finals as a heavy favorite, having beaten Burlingame convincingly in their two meetings.
Menlo rolled over Castilleja (6-8) easily as senior Maggie Brown scored seven goals and freshman Michaela Michael added five. Brown now has 107 goals this season, which ties her for the most in the nation according to MaxPreps.com. She's also listed sixth in the country in points with 134 (107 goals, 34 assists). It's the second straight season she has surpassed 100 goals, making her only the second person in school history to reach triple-digit scoring. Madi Shove is the other.
Castilleja tied Menlo, 1-1, with just 57 seconds gone in the match on a goal by Stephanie Merenbach, who finished with two. With less than five minutes gone, however, Menlo held a 7-1 lead and the outcome never was in doubt after that.