Now comes the tough part. The lightweights have been eliminated. All who remain are heavyweights.
"Every game from here on will be difficult," said Menlo coach Donoson FitzGerald.
The CCS soccer playoffs for girls usually offer this scenario — first-round matches pitting contenders against pretenders. Wednesday's opening round did just that.
In Division III, for example, Priory destroyed host Pacific Grove, 9-0, while Menlo held back in an 8-0 thumping of visiting Seaside. In Division I, Palo Alto even had a relatively easy opener with its 4-0 blanking of host Watsonville.
There shouldn't be any lopsided victories the rest of the way as four local teams lace them up for Saturday's quarterfinals.
Ninth-seeded Palo Alto (9-8-2), which got into the playoffs with an at-large berth, will have to face No. 1 seed Woodside (17-0-3) on Saturday at Terra Nova High (Pacifica) at 2 p.m. Seventh-seeded Priory (10-5-6) will take on No. 2 Live Oak (12-4-4) at Piedmont Hills in San Jose at 2 p.m., while No. 6 Menlo (14-2-4) meets No. 3 Santa Cruz at Valley Christian (San Jose) at 2 p.m.
Should both Priory and Menlo win, they'll face each other in the semifinals next Tuesday at Valley Christian in San Jose. Should No. 4 Sacred Heart Prep (13-4-3) advance over No. 5 Harbor (10-4-5) on Saturday at Valley Christian at noon, it will face No. 1 seed Scotts Valley (14-2-3) in a semifinal. The Gators are the defending champions.
FitzGerald, for one, is a little concerned heading into the quarterfinals.
"We haven't beaten any good teams," he said. Thus, the preparation to possibly face the No. 3, No. 2 and No. 1 seeds has not been there.
"We really haven't won a battle, so that's a concern. That's the next hurdle," he said.
FitzGerald sees Santa Cruz as a bigger school with physically bigger skilled players.
"We're skilled," he said, "but we're not physically as tough. It's going to be a big challenge."
Menlo's recent history with Santa Cruz has not been good. The Cardinals bounced the Knights from the '03 quarterfinals, 1-0, and topped Menlo in the 2000 Division III championship match, 1-0.
Thus, Menlo has plenty to play for on Saturday after backing off in the second half against a Seaside team that the Knights could have beaten 16-0 (or worse).
"What's hard is facing a weak opponent," FitzGerald said. "Now you have to play your 'A' game."
Wednesday's match was so lopsided that Menlo freshman keeper Julia Dressel didn't break a sweat in the first half and pretty much could have done her homework while sitting in the cage as Seaside was unable to get off a single shot on goal in the first half. Dressel sat out the second half.
If Menlo learned anything from its win over No. 11 Seaside (11-5-3) it was that it won't be able to start any more matches by missing its first 15 shots. The Knights did just that and were called for six offsides early in the first half. Menlo helped offset those problems by taking 25 shots in the first half before FitzGerald stopped counting.
Seniors Nicole Fasola and Katie Baum eached scored twice with senior Mila Sheeline adding a solo tally, as did junior Kelly Cavan and sophomore Sophie Sheeline and Elyse Adler. The Knights simply dominated play and cleared their bench in the second half as to not run up the score.
In Pacific Grove, Priory had its best performance of the season in its rout of the Breakers. Darrah Shields scored a hat trick in her first game back on assists from Eugenia Jernick, Massiel Castellanos and Adriana Cortes. Castellanos also assisted on Cortes' goal and Alex Schnabel's goal, while her own goal was created by her own solo play.
Lauren Barkmann scored her first goal of the season off a corner kick kept alive by Lauren Allen. The scoring was capped off by Jernick in the second half off of another assist by Allen. The team played very well in possession and on defense, said Priory coach Armando Del Rio.
In Watsonville, Paly senior Kelly Jenks scored two goals and added an assist. The Vikings grabbed a 2-0 halftime lead. Jenks made it 1-0 after chasing down a long pass from Mira Ahmad in the eighth minute. Sophie Cain added a goal in the 33rd minute after trapping a poor clearance and knocking it over the keeper and into the corner of the cage. In the 47th minute it was Kaitlyn Patterson scoring off a through ball from Erika Hoglund with Jenks capping the scoring in the 65th minute off another assist from Hoglund.
B Boys' soccer
One year removed from tying for the CCS Division I championship, Palo Alto saw its season end with a 2-1 overtime loss to host Leland in the opening round of the section playoffs on Wednesday in San Jose.
The No. 7-seeded Vikings finished the year 8-6-7 while No. 10 Leland (13-3-4) advances to the quarterfinals on Saturday to face No. 2 Alisal (15-1-3).
Paly started the scoring in the first two minutes when sophomore James Maa took a back pass from John Anderton and put a nice shot into the right corner. The game continued back and forth and ended at 1-0 at the half.
"We did not expect the game to remain at 1-0," said Paly coach Don Briggs, "and it proved a correct assumption when an unfortunate turn took place with 15 minutes remaining — when the referee awarded a penalty kick when (Leland's) Jon Chavez tripped up along the end-line near the corner of the box. Chavez converted the PK."
The score remained tied and moved into overtime (two 10-minute periods). In the sixth minute of overtime, a Paly defender who was attempting a clear, hit the ball off a Leland forward who took the ball and placed it into the side of the net. The next 14 minutes continued with Paly having several near scores but could not put the ball in the goal.
"This lack of scoring has been our primary problem all season and came back to haunt us in the end," Briggs said. "We had many opportunities to put the game away, but allowed Leland to stay close in the first half. A very disappointing end for Paly in a game that was well-played by both teams."
Briggs singled out efforts by Alex Freeman, Jenner Fox, Ethan Plant Anderton — all seniors. They kept Palo Alto in the hunt throughout the game. Briggs said it was a tough good-bye for a solid senior group.
Also in Division I, Menlo-Atherton also saw its season end in a 2-1 overtime loss to host Santa Clara in the first round. The No. 12-seeded Bears finished 8-8-4 while the No. 6-seeded Bruins (15-3-3) move on to the quarterfinals. Edgardo Molina gave M-A a 1-0 lead with about 10 minutes left in the match. Santa Clara, however, got a penalty kick in the seventh minute of stoppage time to send the match into OT.
In Division III, sixth-seeded Sacred Heart Prep saw its fine season end abruptly with a 1-0 loss to No. 11 Live Oak in the opening round in Atherton. The Gators finished the season 16-4 while Live Oak (9-2-10) moves on to the quarterfinals on Saturday. Sacred Heart Prep missed freshman and leading scorer Joseph Bolous, who had been red-carded in the team's final WBAL match and had to sit out.