Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - September 20, 2013

Oh brother! Gunn wins first battle of the Johnson coaching twins

by Keith Peters

It was only two summers ago that twin brothers Brandon and Matt Johnson stood on the pool deck at Palo Alto High as the new coaches of the boys' water polo team. As close as twins are, it was only natural that the two came as a packaged deal.

Fast forward to Tuesday afternoon. The brothers were back on the same pool deck, only this time as opposing coaches — Brandon still with Paly but Matt with rival Gunn, from where the brothers graduated in 2006.

Not only were the Vikings and Titans opening their SCVAL De Anza Division seasons, but the brothers were facing each other for the first time ever in a league match.

Score one for Matt and Gunn, as the Titans overcame an early 3-2 deficit in the first quarter and pulled away for a 14-7 victory.

There was no brotherly hug following the match, just an acknowledgment from both as the teams lined up and shook hands.

Was it good to beat his brother?

"Yeah," said Matt, who still shares the same roof with Brandon as both are hanging out at their parents' house. Thus, dinner on Tuesday might have been a bit awkward.

"Yeah, we spoke briefly about it," said Brandon. "Just went over some of the plays from the game and how we thought each of our teams performed, but that's about it. We play each other again (Oct. 10 at Gunn), but may see each other before that as we are both in the NCS/CCS tournament (Sept. 27-28 at St. Francis)."

Matt most likely didn't stick it to Brandon over dinner because this wasn't his first victory over his brother. Gunn and Paly faced each other at the High School Championships during the summer in Southern California, playing for 43rd place in the field of 48. Matt won that one, 12-8, in their first-ever head-to-head meeting as coaches.

This one, of course, was different. It wasn't just brother vs. brother, but Gunn vs. Palo Alto.

"We tried not to hype this game up," Brandon said. "I was focusing on the Schmitt tournament (last weekend). It wasn't like we were practicing just for this game. It's just another water polo game."

Tell that to Matt and his players, who suffered two losses to Paly last season. Gunn's last win over Paly came in 2011, in the Vikings' pool.

"We played great defense," Matt said. "We can score. That's not a problem."

Gunn (1-0, 2-3) got five goals from sophomore Christian Znidarsic and four from senior Coby Wayne, who would have had five but had a penalty shot negated for excessive arm movement before the shot. Ari Wayne added three goals for the Titans.

Gunn took advantage of some early fouls and a risky move by Brandon, who sat some of his starters in the second period in order to get them rested for the match's later stages. The Titans scored three unanswered goals, two by Coby Wayne and one by Ari, to grab a 6-3 lead.

Palo Alto (0-1, 3-2) got back to within 8-6 in the third following Sam Kelley's third goal, but Znidarsic scored three unanswered goals to make it 11-6 heading into the final quarter. It was too much of a deficit to make up. Winston Rosati also tallied three goals for the Vikings, who just didn't come up with enough defensive stops.

"We just didn't didn't play smart," Brandon said. "Our game is defense, a low-scoring game."

Both Gunn and Paly played in the Schmitt tournament last weekend, the Titans going 1-3 (taking eighth) while the Vikings went 3-1 and finished fifth. Gunn, however, missed the Wayne brothers for the final three matches due to Yom Kippur observance and had to atone for the finish.

"We had to redeem ourselves for the weekend," Matt said.

Elsewherer in boys' action this week:

Menlo School tuned up for its own Scott Roche Invitational this weekend by rolling to a 19-3 victory over host Aragon in PAL Bay Division action.

The Knights (2-0, 4-0) raced to a 7-1 first-quarter lead and made it 12-1 at the half. Chris Xi led the way with five goals while Andreas Katsis added four and Tegan Nibbi finished with three. Goalie John Wilson had 10 saves in the second half.

Menlo opens tourney play Friday by hosting Leland at noon. Semifinals are Saturday at 11:05 a.m. And 12:15 p.m., with the championship match scheduled for 4:35 p.m.

In Redwood City, Menlo-Atherton remained a game back of Menlo following a 27-8 dunking of host Sequoia. The Bears (2-1, 3-1) got five goals from John Knox while Jorge Pont and Evan McClelland added four each. M-A will open the Roche tourney on Friday at Palo Alto High, taking on Vista (San Diego) at 2:50 p.m.

In Atherton, Sacred Heart Prep opened it season with an 18-1 romp over visiting Valley Christian to also kick off the West Catholic Athletic League campaign. Harrison Enright tallied five goals for the Gators while Michael Swart and Will Conner added four each. SHP will compete in the Santa Barbara Invitational this weekend at Dos Pueblos High.

Enright, a four-year starter, made a verbal commitment to Stanford this week and will play for the Cardinal next fall. He was the CCS Player of the Year in 2012 and a CCS Division II first-team selection in 2011.

Girls water polo

Gunn made it a clean sweep of Palo Alto on Tuesday with a 13-1 swamping of the Vikings. Natasha Batista led the Titans (1-0, 5-3) with four goals while Lauren Johnson and Caroline Anderson added three each.

"This was obviously a great way for us to begin our league season," said Gunn coach Mark Hernandez. "Palo Alto has historically been a big measuring stick for us, and it meant a lot to our program to come out and play as well as we did, in their house, and in front of a full house."

The Titans grabbed a 5-0 first-quarter lead and increased it to 9-0 at the half.

"We shared the ball well," Hernandez said, "and played very intelligent defense."

Palo Alto (0-1, 0-5) is still searching for its first win for new coach Danny Dye, the school's head swim coach. Dye said it will take time for things to jell, but hopes to have his team ready for the second half of the league season while making a run at a good seed for the De Anza Division playoffs.

In Redwood City, Menlo-Atherton maintained its lead in the PAL Bay Division with an 11-3 victory over host Sequoia on Wednesday. The Bears (3-0, 5-2) are the only unbeaten team left in the division. Jessica Heilman led M-A with five goals with Sofia Caryotakis added three.

In Palo Alto, host Castilleja posted a 13-4 PAL Bay Division win over Aragon as Alex Zafran scored five goals and goalie Maddie Tarr made 10 saves. Anna Yu and Stephanie Flamen added two goals each for the Gators (2-1, 3-4).

In San Jose, Sacred Heart Prep opened its WCAL season with an 18-4 dunking of host Valley Christian. Freshman Maddy Johnston led the Gators (1-0, 6-1) with four goals with junior Aubrey Gavello and freshman Layla Waters adding three goals each.

In PAL Ocean Division action Tuesday, Menlo School (3-1 league) fell into a first-place tie with Half Moon Bay (3-1) following an 11-5 loss to the host Cougars. Donya Dehnad had 11 saves in goal for the Knights.

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