Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - March 14, 2014

Fitting finale in title match

Menlo School, Sacred Heart Prep girls battle to well-deserved section co-championship

by Keith Peters

When you really think about it, it shouldn't have come as a surprise that the Menlo School and Sacred Heart Prep girls battled to a 1-1 deadlock in overtime and wound up sharing the Central Coast Section Division III championship last Saturday night at Valley Christian High in San Jose.

These two neighborhood rivals have tied more times than not since they began playing each other in the West Bay Athletic League in 2009.

In the past six years, the teams have met 12 times during the league season and twice during the postseason. Seven times they have battled to ties. Menlo holds a slight edge in victories, 4-3, but was 0-3-4 against Sacred Heart Prep from 2009-11.

If there was another tipoff to how this year's title match was going to end, one only had to look at last year's CCS Division III boys' finale between Menlo and SHP. Also meeting for the first time in the postseason, the teams fought to a 1-1 stalemate — sharing the title, as well.

The Menlo and SHP girls each brought one outright CCS title each into their first face-to-face championship match. It was fitting, perhaps, that neither team came away as the champ.

"The match was really exciting between two excellent, evenly matched teams," said Menlo coach Donoson FitzGerald, who finished up his 25th season with the Knights.

Added SHP coach Ramiro Arrendondo: "Both teams deserve it, right?"

Yes, they do.

Menlo came into the finale with the most single-season wins (17) as did Sacred Heart Prep (19). The top-seeded Knights exited with a fine 17-3-3 mark while the No. 6-seeded Gators finished 19-2-3 for the best mark in program history.

Clearly, neither team deserved to lose. Sacred Heart Prep found a way to take the lead while Menlo found a way to avert disaster.

"SHP played very well," FitzGerald said. "They challenged us. We struggled to find a rhythm offensively, but all the girls made big plays in key moments. Both teams created scoring opportunities and it was an exciting back and forth match."

The Gators grabbed what looked to be the lead for good in the first 10-minute overtime period when freshman Cameron Gordon scored in the 88th minute off a cross from senior Alex Bourdillon.

However, Menlo got a saving goal from senior Sienna Stritter in the second overtime — in the 96th minute — to earn a co-title. Stritter had missed from long range just four minutes earlier.

"Great scorers find a way to get it done and carry their team to victory," FitzGerald said. "Sienna is that player. She added an exclamation point to her incredible Menlo soccer career.

"Sienna's goal was beautiful. She had nearly scored a couple of other times in the game in similar one-on-one situations having beaten a defender on the dribble. We were all so excited when she got that goal to tie it up; happy to get the tie and the championship. Being down a goal with four minutes left makes that goal feel fantastic . . . They always believed in each other all season. That attitude was the key to us coming back. They played their best after we fell behind."

The co-title is the fourth for the Knights, who also shared titles from 1988-90 and won the championship outright in 2012. The Gators won their first and only title in 2009.

"We played a great game," Arrendondo said. "My girls put out all their effort and followed our game plan. We created plenty of opportunities and I thought we put Menlo on their heels for the majority of the game. Alex (Bourdillon), Tierna (Davidson) and Cameron (Gordon) had an outstanding game."

Arrendondo also liked finishing with a school-record 19 victories.

"19-2-3 is a great record and, yes, we are all very proud of our team. The team bonded so well from the beginning of the season and we (coaching staff) had such an amazing time working with them.

"We know we had a great season this year and we will miss our senior class, but with such a young team we are also excited for the next few seasons."

The Gators will lose seven seniors — Blair Hamilton, Bourdillon, Maddie Morgan, Brianna Carcione, Meagan Terpening, Maddy Jones and Kate Bechtel — while the Knights will lose Stritter, Emma LaPorte, Amanda McFarland and Chandler Wickers.

Menlo finished the season with a 15-match unbeaten streak, last dropping a match on Jan. 4 to Francis Parker in San Diego.

"I am very happy that the girls got it done and earned a CCS championship," said FitzGerald, who praised sophomore goalie Schuyler Tilney-Volk and junior midfielder Leah Swig for their defensive efforts. "To win the third consecutive league title and another CCS championship is very rewarding and is really special.

"These four seniors (Stritter, Wickers, McFarland, LaPorte) are all outstanding players and special girls. I am so proud of what they have accomplished together and so happy to have been their coach."

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