While the PAL Bay Division boys' water polo race usually comes down to the annual showdown between Menlo-Atherton and Menlo School, Thursday's meeting between the rivals didn't carry quite that much weight.
Instead, the Bears and Knights opened their seasons with the first of two league tests against each other -- one that Menlo passed with a 10-8 victory in the Bears' pool. Menlo Atherton won the PAL title last year for the first time in 18 years and now has to win the rematch at Menlo on Oct. 9 to secure a co-title.
Menlo was anchored by exceptional goalkeeping from John Wilson, who recorded 19 saves -- a number of them for point-blank range. The Knights also exhibited their swarm-style defense, with four players recording multiple steals. Weston Avery led that category with five.
Four different Menlo players provided two assists each with center forward Nick Bisconti being the recipient of the most of them, leading the team with five goals.
"The team showed a lot of heart in this game," said Menlo coach Jack Bowen, starting his 14th year as head coach. "Down 7-6 in the third quarter, we stayed within our system and played like a team. And having John there in goal provided a great backdrop for our defense. He just solidified himself as arguably the top goalie in the section."
With senior Jayshree Sarathy leading the way with a 2-over-par 36, Gunn opened its season with a 220-240 victory over host Saratoga in SCVAL De Anza Division action at the par-34 Saratoga Country Club. Anna Zhou added a 39 while Tiffany Yang shot 43, Lianna McFarlane-Connelly had a 49, and Sandra Herchen a 53 to round out the scoring.
Menlo School, ranked No. 67 in the nation by prep volleyball.com, opened its season with a 3-1 win over visiting Menlo-Atherton on Thursday. Senior Maddie Huber has 13 kills to lead the Knights in their 25-20, 25-21, 15-25, 25-14 win over the defending Central Coast Section Division I champion Bears.
Menlo senior middle Morgan Dressel added 11 kills and hit .500 while junior Lida Van der Meer recorded 11 kills as Knights' first-year head coach Steven Cavella made a successful debut.
"It was the first match of the year so we had our ups and downs," Cavella said. "I think it was a good start and hopefully we can get better every match."
The Knights head to Milpitas High for Spikefest, beginning Saturday morning. Other local teams entered include Menlo-Atherton, Gunn and Castilleja. Among those teams in the CCS, only Mitty and Valley Christian are ahead of the Knights in the national rankings.
At Palo Alto High, the Vikings opened their season with a 25-21, 26-24, 25-14 nonleague victory over visiting Castilleja. Senior Becca Raffel led the Vikings with 13 kills, six aces, nine digs while hitting .444. Junior Jade Schoenberger added 10 kills for Paly while senior Lauren Kerr had five kills and hit .429. Senior Keri Gee finished with 15 digs, senior Sarah Limb contributed 19 assists and freshman Jessica Lee added 11 assists for the Vikings, who will play in the Deer Valley Invitational this weekend.
In Atherton, 2012 CIF Division IV state runner-up Sacred Heart Prep opened its season with a 25-13, 25-8, 25-20 nonleague victory over visiting Mercy-Burlingame. Victoria Garrick (10 kills, 11 digs) and Ara Peterson (10 kills, six blocks) paced the Gators, with Natalie Marshall adding 15 assists and Mamie Caruso providing 21 digs.
In San Jose, Priory opened its season by defeating host St Thomas More, 25-22, 25-17, 25-19, in nonleague action. The Panthers were led by 6-foot-2 middle blocker Anna Brett with eight kills and four blocks. Micheala Koval had 11 digs for the Panthers while freshmen Daniela Vivacno, Megan Love and Nadia Faisal all had strong showings in their debuts.
Girls' water polo
With Jessica Heilman scoring eight goals, Menlo-Atherton opened its season with a 12-7 PAL Bay Division win over host Castilleja on Thursday. Sierra Sheeper had nine goalie saves for the Bears in their league and season opener.
In Atherton, freshman Maddy Johnston tallied five goals with seniors Morgan McCracken and Caitlin Stuewe combining for six more as six-time defending CCS Division II champion Sacred Heart Prep defeated visiting Leland, 14-6, to open its season. Senior goalie Kelly Moran had eight saves for the Gators.