Before that happens, there are league titles to be secured and league tournaments to be won.
For the Sacred Heart Prep, Menlo-Atherton and Castilleja girls, there is one final tuneup that could go a long way in determining how far those teams go in the section tournament.
The annual NorCal Championships, which bring together 16 of the top teams from the Central Coast, North Coast, Sac-Joaquin and Central sections, get under way Friday at the Menlo-Atherton and Sacred Heart Prep pool. Semifinals are Saturday morning at SHP with the championship match set 5 p.m.
Sacred Heart Prep and Menlo-Atherton got a sneak preview of sorts while playing in last weekend's Davis Fall Classic. The Gators dropped a 4-3 decision to St. Francis (Sacramento) while the Bears topped Clovis West, 8-6.
St. Francis (Sac.) is the No. 1 seed this weekend while Clovis West is No. 12. Sacred Heart Prep is No. 4, Menlo-Atherton is No. 10 and Castilleja is No. 16, thus getting a first-round match against St. Francis (Sac.) on Friday.
SHP has won this tournament twice (2005, '07) while M-A took the title in 2009. Both teams are coming off solid tuneups, and weekends, for that matter.
Sacred Heart Prep, which went 1-1 at Davis, wrapped up an undefeated season in the West Catholic Athletic League with a 16-1 blasting of Notre Dame-Belmont on Wednesday at Serra High. Senior Clare Rudolph scored for goals to pace the Gators (6-0, 17-3).
Two wins on Friday likely will match SHP against St. Francis (Sac.) in Saturday's semifinals at 11:10 a.m. Should the Gators go 3-0, they'll could meet No. 2 Las Lomas in the finals.
Menlo-Atherton, meanwhile, clinched no worse than a tie for the PAL Bay Division regular-season league title with a 16-0 blasting of visiting Sequoia on Wednesday. The Bears (4-0, 10-8) need only to beat host Aragon on Tuesday to wrap up the title.
Against Sequoia, the Bears grabbed a 7-0 halftime lead and coasted. Seniors Charlotte McMillan and Danielle Flanagan each scored three goals while goalie Sierra Sheeper had eight saves and senior Carol Fornaciari came up with three steals while Gran added four assists.
On Tuesday, host Menlo-Atherton got three goals from Marie Popp and two from Flanagan in a 6-1 nonleague victory over St. Ignatius. Sheeper had 10 saves.
Menlo-Atherton will open the NorCal Championships on Friday against No. 7 Clovis at 1:05 p.m. in the Bears' pool, with a victory most likely meaning a match against Las Lomas in the second round.
In the SCVAL De Anza Division, Gunn got five goals from senior Elizabeth Anderson as the Titans ruined Senior Day for host Palo Alto with a 9-6 victory on Tuesday. The Titans remained in second place at 9-1 (17-6) heading into Thursday's showdown against first-place Los Altos. Paly fell to 5-5 in league (11-9 overall.
Sophomore Caroline Anderson added two goals for Gunn.
"This was a good game for our team, and a great win for our program," said Gunn coach Mark Hernandez. "Due to the vagaries of our schedule, we hadn't been challenged in a while, and Palo Alto was more than ready to challenge us. They played with a lot of energy, and were obviously inspired by their characteristically enthusiastic crowd. So, in that light, our team proved a lot. We beat an improved team on their senior night in as tough as an environment as we're likely to see.
"These are the types of games a coach loves to have; a tough, spirited game that tests your team. Getting the win tonight will go a long way in helping our team perform well at the league tournament (next week at Gunn) and CCS."
Gunn's victory over Paly was its seventh in the past eight games.
"But, more importantly," Hernandez said, "this was the first of those seven that was in their house. That means a lot to us."
In the PAL Bay Division, Menlo School has won only three matches this season, but No. 3 proved to be a big one as the Knights held off host Aragon, 14-10, Tuesday and thus qualified for a CCS play-in match. The Knights (1-3, 3-14) will play Burlingame or Hillsdale next Thursday. If they win, they move into the first round of the CCS playoffs.
Boys' water polo
Getting two goals each from four different players, Sacred Heart Prep earned a three-way tie for first place in the WCAL with a 9-4 victory over Serra to end the regular season on Wednesday.
The Gators finished 5-1 in league (14-10 overall) and tied with St. Francis and Bellarmine. SHP beat the Lancers but lost to the Bells while St. Francis upset Bellarmine last week. Will Runkel had 15 saves in goal for SHP, giving him 90 in the past five matches.
Harrison Enright, Mackey McGibben, Kyle Koenig and Max McKelvy all scored twice for the Gators.
SHP was part of a coin flip on Thursday morning and got the No. 2 seed, with the No. 1 going to Bellarmine.
In the PAL Bay Division, Menlo-Atherton (3-1, 11-10) got five goals from Zach Deal in a lopsided 21-1 victory over visiting Sequoia on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, Gunn avenged an earlier loss to Palo Alto by getting 20 blocks from goalie Harrison Waschura in a big 5-3 victory over the host Vikings. Gunn field players came up with another nine blocks.
Following a 3-3 deadlock at halftime, Gunn's defense blanked the Vikings in the final two periods. Gavin Kerr had two goals for the Titans (7-4 in league), while Tyler Wilson and the Wayne brothers (Coby and Ari) each had one. Paly fell to 8-3 in the SCVAL De Anza Division (12-8 overall).
Sacred Heart Prep earned an at-large berth into the CCS tournament during the West Bay Athletic League Championships/CCS Qualifier on Wednesday at Poplar Creek Golf Course in San Mateo.
The Gators posted their lowest team score of the season (415) to earn a return trip to CCS, set for next Tuesday at Rancho Caņada East Golf Course in Carmel Valley.
Castilleja also shot a CCS qualifying score (435), but it wasn't needed since the Gators already had earned a spot in the section field by virtue of their undefeated record in round-robin league play.
Wake Forest-bound Rachael Henry led all scorers and paced SHP with a steady three-birdie, five-bogey round of 73 on the par-71 layout. The Gators also got solid rounds from seniors Kennedy Shields (77) and Shelby Soltau (81). Jayshree Sarathy of Gunn finished second with a 75.
Freshman Chloe Sales, the WBAL Player of the Year, turned in the low score (80) for Castilleja. Junior Taylor Wilkerson and sophomore Caroline Debs from Castilleja also qualified as individuals for the CCS tournament.
In all, 13 players qualified for the CCS individual tournament that runs concurrently with the team tournament on Tuesday.
Menlo School improved to 9-0 in the West Bay Athletic League (Foothill Division) with a pair of victories over visiting Pinewood on Tuesday. Needing to make up a rainout, the Knights posted 6-1 and 7-0 victories in matches that were played in eight-game pro sets.
Menlo (17-4 overall) wrapped up its 18th straight league title with the sweep, with only Thursday's home match against Notre Dame-San Jose left on the regular schedule. The Knights are undefeated in league play since 1994 and are 187-0 during that time.
Menlo coach Bill Shine improved to 370-64 in his 16th season, winning league titles all 16 years.
Menlo was coming off a 3-1, fifth-place finish at last weekend's Dana Hills National Invitational in Southern California. The Knights beat Laguna Beach, 7-1, and Peninsula, 6-2, lost to eventual champion University (Irvine), 7-1, and won a default over Santa Barbara.
Elsewhere Tuesday, Sacred Heart Prep avenged an upset loss to Notre Dame-San Jose last week by beating the visiting Regents, 5-2, in WBAL (Foothill Division) action. Notre Dame-SJ swept the doubles last week in a 4-3 victory. The Gators turned the tables this time as Kate and Lucy Ackley won at No. 2 doubles and Kathleen Casey and Maddy Jones teamed to win at No. 3 as SHP improved to 5-4 in league (15-5 overall).
Defending CIF Division I state champion Palo Alto posted its ninth straight sweep in SCVAL De Anza Division action this season with a 25-18, 25-14, 25-16 win over host Monta Vista on Tuesday night in Cupertino. The Vikings (9-0, 22-3) remained a game ahead of second-place Los Gatos (8-1). The Wildcats will host the Vikings on Tuesday to decide the division title.
Seniors Maddie Kuppe and Melanie Wade led the way against the Matadors with 11 kills each with senior Caroline Martin adding four. Kuppe added two blocks and Wade contributed six aces. Paly will honor its eight seniors on Thursday in the team's Senior Night against Homestead at 6:45 p.m.
Joining fellow senior honorees Kuppe, Wade and Martin will be Tiffany Tsung, Ashley Shin, Ally Kron, Kimmie Whitson and Jackie Koenig. This is the most successful senior class in school history, having compiled a 63-4 record since last season.
In the WBAL (Foothill Division), Sacred Heart Prep remained unbeaten and in control of the division race with a 25-20, 25-19 19-25, 25-21 over host Mercy-San Francisco on Tuesday. The Gators (8-0, 18-5) were led by seniors Sarah Daschbach, who had 27 kills, and Jesse Ebner with 14 kills. Senior Olivia Bertolacci had 23 digs. Payton Smith contributed 15 kills along with three blocks.
In Palo Alto, Gwen Hubbard saw her debut as Castilleja's interim head coach spoiled in a 25-16, 19-25, 26-24, 14-25, 15-10 loss to visiting Notre Dame-San Jose. The Gators fell to 4-4 in the division (17-12 overall) despite 20 kills, four blocks and two aces from senior Hannah Boland. Junior Lucy Tashman added 12 kills, senior Lindsey Wang had 11 kills and 25 digs while junior Hannah Hsieh contributed 45 assists.
Hubbard is subbing for her sister, Tracie Meskell, who gave birth to her first child (a son) on Saturday.
In Atherton, on Wednesday, Menlo School topped visiting Mercy-San Francisco in a WBAL (Foothill Division) match. The Knights (6-2, 20-6) reached the 20-victory mark after the 23-25, 25-18, 25-17, 25-18 victory. Junior Maddy Frappier tallied 17 kills, sophomore Maddie Huber had 14 kills and seven digs. Freshman Elisa Merten had 40 assists and 17 digs. Junior Emma Thygesen registered eight kills and sophomore Melissa Cairo logged 15 digs. Senior Natalie Roy pitched in with 10 digs and four aces.
On Tuesday, Menlo posted a 22-25, 25-11, 25-20, 25-14 victory over visiting Mercy-Burlingame. Huber had 10 kills, 17 digs, two aces and a block to spark the Knights while Merten had 31 assists.
In the PAL Bay Division, Menlo-Atherton remained in control of first place with a 25-21, 25-17, 25-15 victory over host Burlingame. Junior Ali Spindt led the Bears (11-0, 19-4) with 13 kills, seven assists and five digs while sophomore Pauli King added 11 kills and five digs. Senior Seini Moimoi finished with six kills and four blocks.