By Keith Peters
Jack Bowen was animated more than usual as he paced the deck during his Menlo School boys' water polo match against rival Menlo-Atherton on Wednesday.
He pointed and shouted and verbally dissected nearly every play. Something clearly was up.
"There's something about this game that really meant something," said Bowen, who was up late the night before, unable to sleep.
There were a number of reasons, of course, why Wednesday's showdown was so important. The obvious one was what Menlo's 8-7 victory meant -- a virtual PAL Bay Division championship as the Knights improved to 6-0 while dropping the Bears to 4-2 with four matches remaining.
The second win over M-A this season also avenged last season's single round-robin loss to the Bears, which ended Menlo's string of 19 straight league titles (1993-2011).
The triumph also help Bowen overcome his feeling that somehow he didn't do his best coaching job last season as the Knights struggled to a 14-11 overall record and were knocked out of the Central Coast Section Division II playoffs in the quarterfinals -- despite being the No. 2 seed.
"I had a strange feeling like I let last year's team down," he said, "and that I had to make sure that this year's Jack Bowen was a better coach than that."
Mission accomplished. Menlo (14-2) already has equaled last year's win total and the players are competing at a much-higher level.
That was evident in Wednesday's match as the Knights battled back from early deficits, took a two-goal lead before losing it and then wrapping it up when junior Nick Bisconti converted a 5-meter penalty shot with 48 seconds to play.
Menlo took a 7-5 lead into the final period, but the Bears tied things up on goals by Matt Baszucki and John Knox. M-A had the ball with 1:07 remaining, but a turnover game it back to Menlo. Weston Avery, whose goal in the third period game the Knights a 7-5 lead, drew a penalty with under 50 seconds left, setting up Bisconti's winning shot.
"Our goal is always to be our best," said Bowen. "We wanted to prove it to ourselves that if we are well-prepared and play well, we'll do well.
"The exciting thing about this game is that M-A was so well-prepared and both teams have improved so much in the last month."
Menlo-Atherton (7-5 overall), which lost its division opener to Menlo, 10-8, on Sept. 5, played without one of its top scorers, Evan McClelland, He was sidelined by the flu.
"We had McClelland with a high fever and (he) could not play," said M-A coach Giovanni Napolitano. "And, also, two more with bad flu. But, no excuses, they won the game and we gave it away."
The Bears took leads of 1-0 and 2-1 before Menlo scored four unanswered goals to grab a 5-2 lead. M-A then went on its own scoring run with Jace Blazensky, Buszucki and Mostyn Fero tallying goals for a 5-5 tie.
Every time M-A scored, the Knights had an answer.
Menlo goalie John Wilson was outstanding, coming up with 12 saves -- some from point-blank range. Hans Brouwer led the Bears in the cage, also coming up with double-digit saves.
In the West Catholic Athletic League, Sacred Heart Prep held on to first place with a 16-7 romp over host Mitty. Nelson Perla-Ward tallied four goals to pace the Gators (3-0, 11-1) with Michael Swart and Michael Schuur each adding three.
First-year Palo Alto forged a tie for first place in the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League race and ended Gunn's streak of 20 straight league wins over two years with a 182-196 triumph on Wednesday at Palo Alto Municipal Golf Course.
Michelle Xie led the Vikins (10-1) with a 1-under 33 to earn medalist honors. Audrey Horn shot a 1-over 35 as the Vikings' top two players topped Gunn's one-two punch of Jayshree Sarathy (35) and Anna Zhou (37).
In the West Bay Athletic League (Foothill Division), junior Chloe Sales birdied the final hole for a 1-over 36 to pace Castilleja to a 217-274 victory over visiting Mercy-Burlingame at Palo Alto Hills Golf & Country Club. Castilleja (7-0, 7-1) remained atop the standings and honored seniors Frances Hughes and Ellie Zales, who received roses on the final green.
Also at Palo Alto Hills, Sacred Heart Prep (6-1-1, 6-2-1) remained in second place following a 226-239 win over rival Menlo School. Jessie Rong led the Knights (3-4 league) with a 2-over 37, good for medalist honors, but the Gators picked up 15 strokes over the 3-4-5 spots as Isabelle Chum, Maddy Ellison and Sinead Haley all won.
Girls water polo
Menlo-Atherton took control of the PAL Bay Division race with a 9-7 triumph over visiting Castilleja. The Bears moved to 6-0 (9-4) with the Gators dropping to 4-2 (8-6).
Jessica Heilman scored six goals to pace M-A, which took some of the pressure off starting goalie Sierra Sheeper, who had been sick leading up to the match. Francesca Gilles filled in admirably and came up with 10 saves.
Castilleja actually held a 4-1 lead following a goal by Maddie Macdonald early in the second quarter. M-A then rallied behind goals from Heilman (two) and Fiona Jackson before Stephanie Flamen gave the Gators a 5-4 halftime lead.
Heilman then went to work and scored three unanswered goals for a 7-5 lead. When Castilleja clawed back to within 7-6, Heilman tallied her final goal for an 8-6 advantage.
In the West Catholic Athletic League, Sacred Heart Prep held on to a share of first place with an 11-5 win over visiting Mitty. Senior Morgan McCracken led the Gators (3-0, 12-2) with four goals while fellow senior Caitlin Stuewe added three.