Menlo School soccer coach Donoson FitzGerald made one thing perfectly clear to his girls before they took on host Priory in a crucial West Bay Athletic League (Foothill Division) match on Tuesday.
"You're either the champs tomorrow or the co-champs," he said. "You can't wait until halftime or when they get a goal up to decide whether you want this."
With a victory or tie, the Knights would earn a third straight league title. A loss, however, most likely would result in a co-championship with Sacred Heart Prep.
While Menlo did go scoreless in the first half, the Knights stepped up their game after that and pulled out a 2-1 victory over the Panthers to wrap up a third straight WBAL crown.
Menlo finished its regular season 11-0-1, its first unbeaten league season since at least 1991. The Knights' 15-3-2 overall mark, meanwhile, equals the win total of the 2012 squad that won the Central Coast Section Division III title.
"A very nice accomplishment," FitzGerald said of the 11-0-1 mark that saw Menlo outscore opponents 42-3.
The win over Priory arguably was Menlo's most difficult, given the title ramifications and the fact that Priory had beaten the Knights in Portola Valley the past two seasons -- thus ruining unbeaten league seasons.
"I just knew it was going to be tough," said FitzGerald, in his 25th season at Menlo. "This is a tough play to play."
Priory's smaller, muddy grass field always is a great equalizer. Thus, Menlo practiced Monday on its grass football field to prepare.
After a scoreless first half that saw Menlo struggle to get good shots while Priory held its own -- each team just missed goals with under 7:10 to play -- the teams alternated goals after intermission.
Menlo took the lead with under 30 minutes to play when a corner kick by senior Chandler Wickers was controlled by freshman Claire McFarland, who found junior Jamie Corley for the goal.
Priory (5-5-1, 6-9-1) got the equalizer when freshman Alicia Talancon spun around a defender and launched a shot that escaped Menlo sophomore keeper Schulyer Tilney-Volk for a 1-1 match.
Wickers and senior Sienna Stritter teamed up for the winning goal with around 17 minutes left in the match. Wickers sent a corner kick into a mass of bodies in front of the cage, with the ball being kicked around until Stritter got a foot on it and found the netting.
Tilney-Volk helped preserve the lead when she rushed out of the goal during a one-on-one with Priory's Brenda Uribe and stopped the attempt with a sliding save.
The Knights came into the match with 31 points, six ahead of second-place Sacred Heart Prep, and needed only a tie to secure the crown. Priory, meanwhile, still earned the WBAL's third automatic berth into the CCS Division III playoffs.
Sacred Heart Prep, meanwhile, wrapped up second place with a 5-0 win over visiting Notre Dame-San Jose on Tuesday afternoon. The Gators (9-1-1, 15-2-2) have one match remaining.
Freshman Olivia Athens gave SHP a 2-0 halftime lead with goals in the 14th and 37th minutes on assists from sophomore Tierna Davidson. In the second half, Davidson scored unassisted in the 48th minute and again in the 53rd minute with junior Christine Callinan assisting. Blair Hamilton finished the scoring in the 72nd minute.
In the PAL Bay Division, Menlo-Atherton saw its hopes for an automatic berth into the CCS playoffs fade away following a 2-0 loss to first-place Burlingame.
The Bears (5-4-2, 9-4-4) started strong and dominated the possession early. But, it was Burlingame (7-0-4, 10-1-5) that found the net in the 23rd minute when Kelsey Andrews put a beautiful ball through to Alexis Prieto, who finished with a great shot to the upper-left corner for the 1-0 lead. The Bears had many chances and got off at least six shots, but could not convert. The first half ended with the Panthers ahead 1-0.
In the second half, Burlingame came out strong and found the net a second time when a speedy Alysse Le Mond beat a defender down the right sideline to get a cross off. The cross was finished with a great one touch shot from Anika Rianzares for the 2-0 lead. M-A goalkeeper Jacqueline Foody made a great save over the top later in the half. Both sides continued to battle with each side creating opportunities. The Panthers held on for the win.