By Keith Peters
Winning league water polo titles has seemingly been routine for the Menlo School and Sacred Heart Prep boys plus the Menlo-Atherton girls, all of whom did just that on Wednesday.
The Menlo boys won their 20th league crown in 21 years, the SHP boys made it six titles in the past seven years and the M-A girls captured their seventh straight.
The Gunn boys, meanwhile, ended a long drought of winning league titles on Tuesday.
It was a perfect time for Matt Johnson to take the plunge. After all, his Gunn boys had just survived a final shot by defending SCVAL De Anza Division water polo champion Mountain View and held on for an 8-7 victory.
The triumph on Tuesday was indeed a special one. Not only did it move the Titans to within a victory of their first-ever 12-0 league season, but it clinched the division crown in Johnson's first season as head coach.
The outright league title is the first for Gunn in at least 15 years.
Despite the historic ramifications, the Titans held off on the ritual championship dunking. Perhaps they realized there might be a better, more appropriate time to toss their coach into the pool.
After all, there are still goals to be achieved.
"That was definitely one of our goals, to win league," Johnson said. "It's very exciting. I knew it was a talented group."
The team's first goal for this season was to finish its regular-season home schedule undefeated. The Titans go after that one tonight (6:45 p.m.) against Monta Vista. It's an achievable goal for Gunn on Senior Night.
Should Gunn's division record sit at a sparkling 12-0 after the game, it'll be historic as no other Gunn water polo team -- boy's or girl's -- has been that perfect.
The Titans have come close to being perfect in league numerous times, but that's when there was only a single round-robin schedule. In 1995, when Gunn last won a Central Coast Section title, the Titans lost their final league match (to Palo Alto) to finish 5-1.
Gunn also was 5-1 in league in 2005 and 2004, when Johnson was the Titans' goalie and his twin brother Brandon was the team's scoring leader. Gunn went 44-21 those two years, losing in the CCS Division I finals in 2004. Gunn hasn't been back since.
Johnson, however, has the Titans primed for a return. Gunn takes a 17-6 overall mark into its final division game, quite a turnaround from last year's 7-13 mark that saw the Titans fail to qualify for the section playoffs.
"This is where we want to be every year," Johnson said.
Gunn senior Coby Wayne echoed that.
"It feels great after all these years, in my senior year, getting a chance to go undefeated," he said. "Hopefully we go undefeated the rest of the way."
Gunn came close to losing its perfect league mark on Tuesday against a fired up Mountain View team celebrating Senior Day.
"We knew this was going to be a tough game, since they're the defending champs," said Johnson.
Despite grabbing early leads of 3-1 and 4-2, the Titans fell behind at 5-4 before Justin Cooper scored on a nice lob shot for a 5-5 match after three periods.
Junior Ari Wayne gave Gunn a 6-5 lead before the Spartans got the equalizer from Randy Kenyon with 4:53 to play. Coby Wayne got his only goal of the match to make it 7-6 with 3:30 left, but Mountain View rallied once again behind Alex Paulsen's second goal and it was tied at 7 with 1:46 to play.
Gunn took advantage of a 6-on-5 situation and got the ball into the 2-meter, where Calder Hilde-Jones powered one in for an 8-7 lead with 2:42 remaining.
The teams missed opportunities until the Spartans got triple-teamed Gunn's Christian Znidarsic at hole set and took over with 20 seconds left.Good defense by Znidarsic and Coby Wayne on the shot attempt and Anthony Zunino's 11th save in the cage ended the final threat and Gunn had its long-awaited title.
In the West Catholic Athletic League, Sacred Heart Prep put the finishing touches on an unbeaten league season, its sixth WCAL title in seven years, with a 19-11 swamping of host St. Ignatius on Wednesday. Nelson Perla-Ward led the Gators (6-0, 20-3) with seven goals while junior Michael Swart added six. Stanford-bound senior Harrison Enright finished with three while senior goalie Philippe Marco came up with 14 saves.
In the PAL Bay Division, Menlo clinched the title with one match remaining with a 10-2 win over visiting Carlmont. Chris Xi tallied three goals and Nick Bisconti added two with five steals while goalie John Wilson came up with 12 saves. The Knights improved to 9-0 in league (19-3 overall) and relegated defending champ Menlo-Atherton to second place.
The Bears (7-2, 12-9) rolled over visiting Aragon, 19-6, as Evan McClelland, Jake Bassing and Mimitri Herr all tallied three goals. Jack Beasley, Alex Hakanson, Matt Baszucki and Christian Huhn each added two goals.
Girls water polo
Menlo-Atherton wrapped up another PAL Bay Division title with a 13-4 victory over visiting Aragon on Wednesday. The Bears (9-0, 14-5) were led by Jessica Heilman's eight goals while fellow seniors Sofia Caryotakis and Nicole Zanolli added three and two goals, respectively.
M-A holds a two-game lead over second-place Castilleja with just one regular-season match remaining, at Burlingame next Wednesday. The Bears now have won 48 straight league matches since 2007.
Also in the PAL Bay Division, senior Stephanie Flamen scored four goals and junior Fernanda Kramer added three to propel host Castilleja to a 12-1 dunking of Carlmont in the Gators' final home match of the season. Castilleja (7-2, 11-7) also got two goals from Jenna Kotcher and Anna Yu plus one from Celia Aldrete.
In the West Catholic Athletic League, Sacred Heart Prep honored its 10-person senior class by capping its regular season with a 6-2 win over visiting St. Ignatius on Wednesday night. Freshman Maddy Johnston and senior Caitlin Stuewe each tallied three goals while senior goalie Kelly Moran had seven saves for the Gators (5-1, 15-5), who finished in second place behind St. Francis.
In the SCVAL De Anza Division on Tuesday, Gunn moved within a victory of wrapping up their division title after holding off host Saratoga, 9-8. The Titans (10-1, 14-5), who got six goals from Caroline Anderson and two from Bianca Batista, can successfully defend their regular-season title by beating visiting Lynbrook today.
In PAL Ocean Division action Tuesday, Menlo goalie Donya Dehnad came up with 16 saves during a tough 8-7 loss to first-place Woodside. The Knights fell to 9-6 (9-12) while the Wildcats improved to 14-1 (15-4 overall).