Uploaded: Friday, October 5, 2012, 11:13 AM
The water polo tide is turning in the Titans' favor
|By Keith Peters
Palo Alto Online Sports
For many years, the Gunn-Los Altos matchups in girls' water polo haven't been much to talk about. In fact, the results were predictable as the Eagles soared to victories.
Up until the second regular-season meeting between the teams last season, Gunn never had beaten Los Altos. That streak finally ended in the Titans' pool and things haven't been quite the same since.
Mark Hernandez was on board as head coach in 2009 and helped turn what had been a moribund program into a respectable one.
Prior to his arrival, the Titans had never advanced past the first round of the Central Coast Section playoffs and, from 2000 to 2007, had missed them altogether. Under Hernandez, Gunn finally reached the CCS quarterfinals.
In 2010 and '11, Gunn reached the section semifinals -- losing to the eventual champion each time.
The turnaround can be attributed to a number of factors. Having a full-time, on-campus teacher/coach like Hernandez helped. Finally getting a new pool also was a huge improvement, as was getting players involved year round in aquatics -- fall water polo, spring swimming and summer water polo.
"They have about a month off in the fall, but that's it," Hernandez said.
A stable coaching staff was another big factor, as was an upgraded schedule and victories over teams like Paly and Los Altos.
"Slaying the dragon really helped," Hernandez explained. "Los Altos had been a big nemesis for us every year."
The dragon officially was felled last season when Gunn beat the Eagles twice while winning the SCVAL De Anza Division regular-season and playoffs titles for the first time.
Gunn went 11-1 in league last season on the way to finishing 21-7, both the best marks in program history. The Titans, however, are on their way to improving upon both.
The Titans' 13-4 victory over visiting Los Altos on Thursday night moved Gunn to 7-0 and kept the Titans atop the division standings and 11-3 overall. Since Gunn never has reached the CCS finals, there are plenty of goals to achieve this season.
"We have a bunch of good girls," said Hernandez. "Everyone is on the same page. We're not as explosive (as last year). But, this team plays well together."
It will have to because the Titans are no longer the underdogs in most games. The hunter now has become the hunted.
"I'm not used to coaching that way," Hernandez said.
Hernandez also has been forced the change the game plan a bit.
"That's what so fun about coaching high school," said Hernandez. "You get (and have) to re-invent yourself every year. This year, for example, we may not have the firepower we've had in the past years -- we lost three of our top four goal-scorers from last year, including Elizabeth Anderson (now playing for Santa Clara University) -- but we're re-defining ourselves as a defensive-minded team."
The Titans held Los Altos without a goal in the first half while grabbing an 7-0 lead. Caroline Anderson and Rachel Wong each had four goals for Gunn. Lauren Lesyna added two goals while Erica Watkins, Maggie Sockness and Emily Fitzgerald tallied solo goals as the Titans moved closer to surpassing last season's win totals.
While Hernandez was hesitant to compare last season with this year, he did acknowledge one difference in the squads.
"Last year's team probably played its best game in September, when we lost to Campolindo," he said. "This team's best game should be in November."
The CCS finals are November 17.
In other girls' water polo action Thursday:
In the PAL Ocean Division, Menlo School goalie Linsday Montgomery was on fire for the Knights in goal with 22 saves in a 6-3 victory over previously unbeaten Woodside on Thursday. Kaelen Dunn tallied four goals and Audrey Flower added two as Menlo improved to 5-2 in division play.
The Paly at Homestead match was halted in the fourth quarter when the lights went out. The teams will replay the fourth period next time they meet. The Vikings were leading at the time.
Boys' water polo
Senior Bret Pinsker poured in seven goals to pace Palo Alto to a 12-9 victory over host Homestead in SCVAL De Anza Division action on Thursday. The Vikings (5-2, 11-4) pulled ahead by outscoring the Mustangs, 4-1, in the final period. Junior Sam Kelley added three goals for Paly.
In another division match, Gunn fell to visiting Los Altos, 19-5.
In nonleague action, Menlo School was upended by host Serra, 11-8, in overtime. Chris Xi and Johnny Wilson each tallied three goals each for the Knights (8-5), but the Padres scored three unanswered goals in the two mandatory extra periods.
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