By Keith Peters
Perfection is tough to accomplish. Too many things have to fall into place to navigate a league or overall season without a loss. Just ask Gunn girls water polo coach Mark Hernandez.
"It's a long three months to have a high school team stay healthy and not have any problems," Hernandez said of the season. "It's hard to go 12-0."
His Titans were rolling right along in SCVAL De Anza Division action this season, putting together a sparkling 9-0 record that included a win over Los Gatos, which handed Gunn its only loss during an 11-1 championship run a year ago.
Last Friday in practice, however, Gunn starting goalie Sam Acker was hit in the head with an errant shot. Since then, she has suffered from "concussive symptoms."
She missed Tuesday's win over Homestead as first-year goalie Zoe Zwerling, better known for her exploits on the basketball court, made the start and got the win.
On Thursday, Acker was still sidelined and Zwerling got the call once again. This time, however, the opponent was Los Gatos.
"She did a fine job for a first-year player," Hernandez said of Zwerling. "But, Los Gatos shoots the ball very well."
That combination of Gunn's inexperience in goal and the Wildcats' experience in the field resulted in a 9-7 overtime victory for Los Gatos, throwing the De Anza Division into a deadlock with both teams at 9-1.
"Los Gatos played much better today than the first time we played them," said Hernandez, whose team defeated the Wildcats, 16-5, in the first meeting.
Gunn senior Caroline Anderson, who scored 10 goals in the first meeting, tallied four times Thursday. Her goal with 48 seconds remaining in the match appeared to be enough to keep the Titans unbeaten.
That 7-6 lead looked even better when Gunn's Natasha Batista came up with a steal and passed it to her sister, Bianca, with time running out. Instead of taking time off the clock, Bianca took a shot and missed with 25.3 seconds still to play -- giving Los Gatos a shot to tie.
Gunn put up a stout defense and appeared to stop a final Los Gatos attack as time expired. But, somehow officials ruled that Los Gatos still had two seconds left and the Wildcats put the ball into play and took one final, long shot. It found the upper left corner of the cage and, despite protestations from Hernandez, the goal stood and the match headed to overtime.
"In the officials' judgment, the desk was two seconds late on stopping the clock on the foul. So, in their view, the Los Gatos player should have had the ball with two seconds to go," Hernandez explained. "Now, usually, when the ball comes out of the pool, the player who subsequently starts with the ball isn't allowed to shoot -- unless it's a desk error, in which case whoever has the ball can shoot.
"So, we had some reverse home cooking with our desk. Having said that, I should have had all the field players get in the goal to help block the shot. Also, we shouldn't have been in that position in the first place -- we should have scored to make it 8-6 with a minute to go, and that would have ended the game."
Los Gatos scored twice in the first of two three-minute extra periods, including one at the buzzer, to grab a 9-7 lead. Gunn had no answer in the second OT and had to settle for the defeat.
"Without question, this is our most disappointing loss," Hernandez said. "Of our five losses, this is the one where we played the furthest from our best, and where we felt that we definitely have the better team."
Hernandez said the loss of Acker affected the offensive output of Anderson, regarded as one of the best players in the Central Coast Section. Anderson gets many of her goals on counter attacks and after steals, with Acker firing long passes down the pool. Zwerling still lacks that experience and it showed Thursday.
"We couldn't get her (Anderson) the ball fast enough," Hernandez said. "We just couldn't get her as many looks as we wanted."
If there was a silver lining in the loss, it's that Gunn (13-5 overall) will wind up getting the No. 1 seed for the De Anza Division playoffs should it remain tied with Los Gatos. Goal differential in the two head-to-head matches will be the tiebreaker, with the Titans outscoring the Wildcats, 23-14, in their two meetings.
Elsewhere in the De Anza Division, host Palo Alto celebrated its seniors' final home match with a 12-5 victory over Lynbrook. The Vikings (4-7, 6-13) got three goals from Tess van Hulsen and two each from Katie Francis, senior Emma Wolfe, Gigi Rojahn and Olivia Scola.
In the PAL Ocean Division, Menlo School got two goals from junior Jennie Greenstein during a 4-2 loss to host Mills as the Knights fell to 9-5 in league (9-11 overall). Senior goalie Donya Dehnad had 12 saves.
Boys water polo
Just like in the girls' match earlier, Gunn had to go into overtime in it SCVAL De Anza Division match with visiting Los Gatos on Thursday. But, unlike the Gunn girls, the boys pulled out a 7-6 victory to clinch no worse than a tie for the division's regular-season title.
Gunn improved to 10-0 in league with two matches remaining (13-6 overall) as senior Coby Wayne tallied four goals. Quinn Hamilton, Justin Cooper and Christian Znidarsic added solo goals.
Los Gatos tied the match at 6 on a 5-meter penalty shot with about 1:30 left in the fourth period. In overtime, Znidarsic drew a penalty and Wayne converted for the winning tally.
Across town, Palo Alto remained in second place with a 14-7 victory over visiting Monta Vista. The Vikings (9-2, 19-4) had a balanced attack that saw Lucas Novak, JJ Kadifa, Sam Kelley, Kian McHugh and Winston Rosati all score two goals.
In nonleague action, host Menlo School (18-2) got five goals from Nick Bisconti and 15 saves from goalie John Wilson in a 7-6 win over Coronado, the alma mater of Menlo coach Jack Bowen.
Each summer, the teams train together in Coronado and Menlo players live with the Coronado families during the trip. The teams know each other well, and the coaches know each other even better as Bowen was coached by Coronado veteran Randy Burgess.
After a tied first quarter, Menlo pulled ahead to a 3-1 halftime lead and held on from there to win, improving its all-time record against Coronado to 7-6.