Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - March 9, 2012

Menlo girls' path to title clearly marked

by Keith Peters and James Huber

It started back in November when members of the Menlo School girls' soccer team members took their Sharpie pens and began marking their bodies.

This was not born out artistic design, but rather as a reminder of the past and how the future could be changed.

The team's last league title was in 1991 and previous Central Coast Section co-championship was in 1990. So, the players began writing 1991 in black ink on themselves as they pushed toward the West Bay Athletic League title.

"I just kept tracing over what I written the previous week," said Menlo senior Shannon Lacy. "I think they (the numbers) just kept getting bigger."

When Menlo finally claimed the WBAL title, the players scratched off 1991 and wrote 2012. Then, the focus shifted to CCS.

The Knights had shared section titles from 1988-90, but never won an outright CCS crown. So, the players wrote 1990 on themselves before each section match.

"It (the marks) never went away," said sophomore Jay Boissiere. "We had 1990 and 1991 on us since November."

If nothing else, the dates pointed the way toward titles because Menlo followed up the long-awaited league title with a CCS Division III crown last Saturday at Valley Christian High in San Jose following a 2-0 victory over Santa Cruz.

"It worked so well," Lacy said of the Sharpie numbers' game. "We wanted this so bad this year."

With the section victory secured, the Knights marked off 1990 and wrote 2012. Mission accomplished.

Menlo, the No. 4 seed, finished 15-4-3. The Knights eliminated No. 1 Scotts Valley in the semifinals, 1-0, on a penalty kick by Boissiere before upending No. 2 Santa Cruz.

"This is the best team I've ever had," head coach Donoson FitzGerald said. "I've had a lot of great teams at Menlo, but this team is above and beyond."

FitzGerald and the Knights had been close before, losing the 2000 finale to Santa Cruz, which knocked out Menlo in both the 2003 and 2010 quarterfinals.

Heading into this season's postseason, the Knights had played in seven of the previous 10 section tournaments and had lost to the eventual champion each time. By reaching the finals last weekend, the Knights faced the prospect of making that eight out of 11 years.

This time, it didn't happen.

"I don't think anyone on our team thought we weren't going to win our championship game," Lacy said.

Boissiere scored Menlo's first goal off a penalty kick with six minutes left in the first half. After sophomore forward Chandler Wickers was fouled from behind on a breakaway, Boisserie stepped up.

"Generally I try to get (the goalie) to go the wrong way so I can not hit it perfectly and still have it go in," Boisserie said, who was 3-3 on penalty kicks in the CCS playoffs.

Menlo took a 1-0 lead into halftime and never looked back, keeping the ball in Santa Cruz's territory for most of the second half.

Wickers was relentless at the point of attack for Menlo and punched in the team's second goal off a nifty assist from sophomore Lindsay Karle in the 67th minute.

The vaunted Menlo defense suffocated the Santa Cruz attack and recorded its 11th shutout of the season. Lacy led the way once again and the defense prevented the Cardinals from mustering any dangerous scoring opportunities in the second half. The formidable tag team of junior goalies Kelly McConnell and Julia Dressel recorded yet another shutout.

"We're really in tune with each other," Lacy said. "If it gets past one of us we're really good at getting back and supporting each other."

Early in the game, both teams had good opportunities at goal. Wickers narrowly missed a shot over the crossbar and a Santa Cruz header sailed wide left of the frame.

Menlo had a couple of scoring chances after its first goal; Boisserie had a nice left-footed cross into the box for sophomore Siena Stritter and Wickers fed Karle for a through ball that was snuffed out by the Santa Cruz keeper. In the second half senior Elyse Adler's long throw-ins caught Santa Cruz sleeping, with Menlo's forwards swooping in from behind.

"We played a very good team," FitzGerald said. "We certainly have some incredible individuals, but this team all the way through is strong. We found a way to win with different players stepping up. It's hard to put a finger on it. I love this team. I love to see who they are as people . . . These girls kept playing at such a high level.

"This group of kids evolved into a special team over the season. First, the character of the 19 girls is outstanding. Each of the players was committed to the team and to each other. They gave their best effort consistently. They were unselfish. The liked each other. All were talented soccer players."

For FitzGerald, in his 23rd season, it all came together and added up to a championship.

"We had two strong goalkeepers, a group of really tough and skilled defenders, creative and hard-working midfielders, and many goal-scoring forwards," FitzGerald said. "We had role players coming off the bench who gave us a contribution in that role. The team played very hard and they played for each other.

"This tam was a team in every sense. They pulled together, believed in each other, played hard, had fun, and created a beautiful soccer team. I am so proud of them and so happy for the team they created together."

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