Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - October 8, 2010

M-A's tuneup for PAL title chase is a real winner

by Rick Eymer

Senior MJ O'Neill thinks the Menlo-Atherton High girls' water polo team has gotten a lot better since losing to Castilleja at the St. Francis Alumni Invitational early in the season.

"Hopefully we won't make the same mistakes," she said. "We lost but it wasn't a crumbling loss. It's always great to show how we've improved as a team."

The Bears set up their league showdown with Castilleja next week by beating visiting Menlo School, 10-6, in a PAL Bay Division contest on Wednesday.

"It's nice to beat a rival school like Menlo," M-A senior Shelby Fero said. "They've won a lot of CCS titles."

Both schools are in a rebuilding mode. The Bears had to replace eight seniors who helped M-A (2-0, 7-4) reach the CCS title match, where they lost in overtime to St. Francis for the second consecutive year. M-A won the CCS title in 2007.

Menlo School (0-2, 3-9) has not gotten past the CCS quarterfinals since winning the last of three straight titles in 2006.

They are both making the best of their situations. McNeill and Fero, each of whom scored three times against the Knights, joined the NorCal club team so that they could play with their current teammates over the summer. They were both members at Stanford Water Polo Club (ironically led by Menlo-Atherton graduate John Tanner) previously.

While M-A goalie Emily Dorst (six saves against Menlo) played with the 18U team that finished fourth in the nation at last summer's Junior Olympics, the rest of the team played together on the 16U team that went 4-2-1 and finished 19th out of 92 teams.

The extra effort has been paying off for the Bears, coached by Chris Rubin, also an alumnus of the Stanford Water Polo Club team and an M-A graduate.

"This is a new team with new starters," O'Neill said. "We're filling new roles cohesively and everyone has stepped up."

M-A finally shook Menlo with a series of four goals in the third period that eventually led to a five-goal advantage.

Katherine Liang, Emily Gran, Danielle Flanagan and Marie Popp also scored for the Bears.

Menlo coach Sean Nolan also saw a lot of good things out of his team. The Palo Alto grad and Olympian has a roster comprised of two seniors, three juniors, five sophomores and four freshmen.

"This was our best game of the year," he said. "We were in the game and competitive with them. M-A and Castilleja are the top two teams and if we can finish strong it would be an accomplishment."

Senior Hailey Smith led the Knights with four goals and junior Ilana Crankshaw added two.

Sophomore Lindsay Montgomery and freshman Donya Sheikhrezai combined for five saves, while freshman Averi Westerman earned five ejections.

In another PAL Bay Division match Wednesday, Castilleja got seven goals from senior Natasha von Kaeppler in an 18-2 swamping of visiting Aragon. The Gators (2-0, 7-3) also got three goals from senior Barbara Peterson and two each from Megan Costello, Camille Zubizaretta and Sydney Molano.

Castilleja will visit three-time defending CCS Division II champ Sacred Heart Prep in a doubleheader on Friday at 6 p.m. In the earlier contest, Menlo will face defending CCS Division I champ St. Francis at 4:45 p.m.

Sacred Heart Prep (4-0, 12-1) tuned up with a solid 14-3 triumph over host Valley Christian (San Jose) on Wednesday. Pippa Temple led the Gators with three goals while Bridgette Harper, McKenzie O'Holleran and Erin Sheridan all scored twice. Senior goalie Catherine Donahoe had nine saves while backup Lauren Ferrando added three.

In the SCVAL De Anza Division this week:

If they don't already, the Gunn girls should have Oct. 19 circled on its calendar. That's when the Titans play host to Los Altos with the regular-season title on the line.

Gunn and Los Altos have met once already this season, with the Eagles registering a victory in their own pool. The rematch will be in Gunn's pool, where the Titans upset Los Altos in last season's league playoff finals.

Thus, Gunn will have some good vibe for it in two weeks. All the Titans need to do is keep the momentum going, like they did Tuesday in a 9-6 victory over visiting Palo Alto.

Juniors Elizabeth Anderson and Casey Lincoln each scored two goals for Gunn, as did senior Shelby Newman. The Titans jumped out to a 5-0 lead and never trailed. Anderson gave the Titans the lead with a goal just 22 seconds into the match.

"We moved the ball very well early on," said Gunn coach Mark Hernandez, whose team improved to 5-1 in league and 8-1 overall — the only loss coming to Los Altos (6-0 league). "Everyone in the pool got involved in the offense, and that helped. Our girls came out very aggressive on offense, and very smart and helpful on defense."

Gunn took a 6-0 lead into halftime and held an 8-1 lead in the third period before the Vikings (4-2, 9-8) battled back and made it close behind three goals from Skylar Dorosin. Paly's Haley Conner also scored three times in the second half.

Hernandez singled out goalie Katie-Ross Skelly for her contributions.

"She was definitely a key today," Hernandez said. "She had, without question, her best game of the year, and perhaps her career. Palo Alto shoots the ball very well, and she made a number of excellent saves."

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