Not only did the Knights have to watch the Sacred Heart Prep girls march to the Foothill Division alter three consecutive years, but they didn't even have an automatic invitation to postseason party as the third-place finisher.
Thus, for the past three seasons, Menlo had to earn its Central Coast Section berth by winning a playoff with the WBAL Skyline Division champ. The Knights say those days are over.
"We want to win it this year," said Menlo senior Sophie Sheeline.
"This year we're that much better," added senior Shannon Lacy.
The Knights could be sitting all alone in the WBAL Foothill Division race today, depending on what happened Thursday. Menlo needed to beat Notre Dame-San Jose while Sacred Heart Prep needed to upend Priory.
If that were to happen, Menlo would be 6-1 with 18 points, Sacred Heart Prep would be 5-1-1 for 16 points and Priory would be 5-1 for 15.
If the Knights did their job against NDSJ, the worst-case scenario would find them still tied with Priory for first place. Bottom line, Menlo has entered the second half of division play in a very enviable position.
"If you guys go undefeated in the second half, you're the champs," Menlo coach Donoson FitzGerald told his players following a 4-0 victory over visiting King's Academy on Monday.
The big dates remaining on Menlo's calendar are Feb. 2 against Priory and Feb. 14 in a regular-season finale against Sacred Heart Prep, both at home. The Knights lost to Priory on Jan. 12, 1-0, but upended SHP last Saturday, 2-0.
The victory over the Gators was the Knights' first ever in the WBAL and only the second time since SHP joined the league three years ago that it had been beaten.
"It was great to play that way and get goals, because we've been struggling to score," FitzGerald said. "They played like they're capable of playing."
"It was huge for us," said Sheeline. "It should really help our season."
FitzGerald was concerned about how his team would play against King's Academy on Monday after the victory over SHP. His concerns were alleviated a little when Sheeline scored in the first half, off an assist from sophomore standout Jaye Boissiere. In the second half, Boissiere scored twice and sophomore Chandler Wickers added the finishing touches with her fifth goal in four matches.
"We're definitely on a roll right now," said Lacy. "Our energy is so high after we get that first goal. We have a very strong sense of unity. We're shooting to be No. 1 in league."
The Priory girls, of course, will have a say in that. Their earlier win over Menlo was their first ever in WBAL play and they're also driven after finishing second the past three seasons.
The Panthers (5-0, 8-2-2) pulled into a tie for first place on Tuesday following a 2-1 victory over Castilleja at Mayfield Soccer Complex. Priory scored two in the first half on a cross in the 35th minute and a free kick two minutes later, both by senior Darrah Shields. She now has seven goals in league play. Eugenia Jernick assisted on the first goal. Caitlin Colvin scored for Castilleja.
At Watson Park in San Jose, Sacred Heart Prep moved to within two points of the co-leaders following a 4-0 victory over Notre Dame-San Jose. The Gators are now 4-1-1 in league (6-3-5 overall).
Junior Kendall Jager had a foot in each goal, starting with an unassisted goal in the 38th minute for a 1-0 halftime lead. In the second half, Jager scored on a penalty kick in the 57th minute, assisted on a goal by freshman Alex Bourdillion in the 65th minute and started an own goal in the 76th minute on a cross that was inadvertently knocked into the net by a NDSJ player.
On Wednesday, senior Emily Mosbacher scored four goals and added two assists as Castilleja rolled to a 9-1 victory over Mercy-Burlingame at the Mayfield Soccer Complex.
Castilleja senior Caitlin Colvin notched four assists and sophomore Gabby Kaplan had three assists and a goal for the Gators (1-4-2, 2-8-2). Junior Katherine Hobbs had two goals and an assist and the remaining goals were scored by freshmen Anna Verwillow and Victoria Pu. Mercy's lone goal came on a penalty kick.
In the WBAL Skyline Division, first-place Pinewood rolled to a 10-0 victory over visiting Downtown College Prep. Etelle Stephan scored three goals and added an assist for the Panthers (8-1, 8-3-1) while Adrienne Whitlock added two goals. Danielle Man and Nicole Colonna each had one goal and two assists as Pinewood continued its bid to earn a playoff berth into the postseason.
In the PAL Bay Division, Menlo-Atherton took over sole possession of third place with a 2-0 victory over host Woodside on Tuesday evening. The Bears improved to 4-2-1 in league (8-4-1 overall) and have 13 points. Aragon (6-1) leads with 18 points with Carlmont (5-0-2) second with 17.
In the SCVAL De Anza Division, it was a wild finish with five goals being scored in the final five minutes, but host Palo Alto still came out on the short end of a 3-2 decision against Monta Vista. Paly fell to 1-4-2 in league (3-6-4 overall) while the Matadors moved to 4-2-12 (8-4-3). The teams played a 1-1 deadlock in their first meeting.
After Jordan Smith found Sunny Lyu, who slid into the ball and pushed it in for a goal that tied the match at 2 — the fourth goal scored in four minutes — Monta Vista took over in stoppage time and managed a corner kick in the 81st minute. During a scramble in front of the cage, the ball accidently bounced off a couple of Paly players for the winning goal.
Paly had one final chance when Mayssen Labidi took a free kick in the 82nd minute that was just wide of the cage. Labidi tied the match 1-1 on a free kick.
Sacred Heart Prep lost an opportunity to widen its lead in the WBAL following a 1-1 deadlock with visiting King's Academy on Wednesday.
The match originally was scheduled for the Knights' home field, which was unplayable due to the recent rains. Thus, the Gators had the home field advantage and failed to take advantage of it.
On a day that saw the top four teams in the league all play to a tie, SHP had a chance to open a seven-point lead over second-place Menlo had the Gators won. Instead, Sacred Heart Prep (6-0-1, 9-0-3) has 19 points and a five-point lead.
The Gators, who suffered a tie and loss to King's last season during a 12-1-1 league campaign, fell behind once again when King's converted a penalty kick in the first half. The Gators answered in the 25th minute when Andrew Segre took a bouncing pass from Nicklaus Salzman and beat the onrushing goalie to the ball, knocking it past him for the tie.
While the Gators had to settle for the tie, they also came up with a big loss as sophomore scoring standout Isaac Polkinhorne received a yellow card and then a red for arguing a call. He'll have to sit out Friday's important home match against second-place Menlo at 2:45 p.m. The Knights are still looking for their first-ever win over the Gators.
The Knights also missed an opportunity to close the gap on first-place Sacred Heart Prep after settling for a 1-1 deadlock with host Harker on Wednesday. The Knights broke a 0-0 deadlock with under three minutes to play, but Harker countered and that's how it ended.
Menlo (4-1-2, 7-1-4) remained in second place with 14 points. Had the Knights won, only three points would have separated them from SHP instead of five.
Menlo junior Max Parker collected a diagonal pass across the top of the box from senior Henry Bard and neatly shot across the keeper far post to put Menlo up 1-0 with only 2:30 to play. Harker rallied after Menlo failed to clear and tied the game with 20 seconds left in the match.
In the PAL Bay Division, Menlo-Atherton remained in the hunt for the division title by posting a 2-1 victory over host Carlmont on Wednesday. Edgardo Molina scored two first-half goals, the first assisted by Elvis Abarca, to pace the Bears (4-0-2, 9-0-3). Carlmont scored its goal in the second half.
In the SCVAL De Anza Division, Palo Alto remained winless on the season following a 2-0 loss to host Homestead. The Mustangs scored goals in each half while the Vikings fell to 0-5-2 in league (0-11-4 overall). Paly will host first-place Mountain View on Friday at 3:30 p.m.