Second-year coach Kurt Devlin was a little concerned, especially after having to deal with a senior class his first season that was not happy with how the new coach ran things.
"It wasn't looking good," Devlin said.
On Dec. 13, though, Palo Alto battled defending CCS Division III champ Menlo School to a 2-2 deadlock. The Vikings were missing nearly half their roster due to the holiday break, but played great in the second half to forge the tie.
"That was kind of the turning point in the season," said Devlin. "Then I thought we had something."
"They had no confidence up to that point," said Paly assistant Eric Seedman. "They had no confidence last season and I think it carried over."
Following the tie with Menlo, everything changed for Palo Alto.
"We haven't lost since," Devlin said.
Palo Alto has a 12-match unbeaten streak since its last loss on Dec. 8. Included in that streak is a 9-0-1 mark in the SCVAL El Camino Division. The latest victory came Wednesday, a 9-0 romp over visiting Wilcox that earned the Vikings their first league title since 2005.
That capped a run from worst to first in the space of one season as the Vikings went from demotion to promotion.
"It's nice to end our senior year like this," said Paly goalie Erin Chang, one of only four seniors on the team. "Last year was definitely a rebuilding season."
The Vikings went 1-7-4 in the SCVAL De Anza Division in 2012, tying Gunn for last place. Paly, however, was dropped to the El Camino Division on a tiebreaker.
"The sad thing about last year is that we had talent," said Devlin. "We just didn't show it . . . being able to the league takes the bitter taste out of last year."
The Vikings (11-4-2 overall), with 28 points, can't be caught by second-place Santa Clara (7-2-2 and 23 points), which has only once match left. Interestingly enough, the last time Palo Alto won a title, in the De Anza Division, the Vikings outscored their league opponents, 60-1. With two matches remaining, the goal differential is 51-4.
Juniors Sunny Lyu and Megan Tall helped add to that growing total as Lyu had three goals (and three assists) and Tall added two goals in the win over Wilcox. Sophomore Katie Foug, junior Alyssa Maharaj, freshman Heidi Moeser and junior Julia Kwasnik (penalty kick) tallied the other goals before the Vikings took to the field for an impromptu dog pile to celebrate their long-awaited league title.
"We're really balanced," said senior Nina Kelty, who shares the captain role with Chang. "We all play well together."
Now, Palo Alto can look forward to returning to the CCS playoffs. The last time the Vikings did so out of the El Camino Division was 1999.
Devlin said his team's goals since Day 1 was to win the league title "and make a good run in CCS. If we get the right draw, the girls can do well."
The Menlo School girls, meanwhile, became the first local team to clinch a league title and CCS berth by wrapping up the West Bay Athletic League (Foothill Division) crown last Thursday with a x-x victory over host Notre Dame-San Jose.
The Knights continued their successful season and celebrated Senior Day with a 3-2 triumph over visiting King's Academy on Tuesday. Menlo (9-0, 11-2-4) twice rallied from one-goal deficits to pull out the win. Junior Sienna Stritter tallied both those goals for the Knights, who got the winning goal with eight minutes remaining from Maya Norman off a second assist by Chandler Wickers.
In Atherton, host Sacred Heart Prep moved into second place in the Foothill Division following a 1-0 victory over Crystal Springs. The Gators (4-2-4, 8-4-5) got the winning goal in the 19th minute from junior Meagan Terpening off an assist from junior Alex Bourdillon.
SHP can remain in second by beating King's Academy (Thursday) and Menlo on Saturday (3 p.m.), both at home.
Meanwhile, Pinewood grabbed sole possession of first place in the WBAL Skyline Division with a 5-2 victory over host Mercy-Burlingame at Skyline College. The teams entered the match tied for first place, with the winner all but clinching the outright division championship.
Pinewood (11-0-1, 12-3-2), which has two matches remaining after picking up a forfeit win over Latino Prep, took a shot at officially locking up the division title on Thursday against host Mercy-San Francisco. With that accomplished, the Panthers will move on to a playoff match against the Foothill Division's fourth-place team to decide the WBAL's final CCS berth.
"It was an exciting game, in which we lost one of our starting freshmen, a dynamic midfielder (Amrita Mecker), to injury in the sixth minute," said Pinewood coach Michael Tetzlaff. "But, the team shook it off, adjusted to the bigger field and gusty wind, and just went about its business without being unnerved by the importance of this game for the standings in our division."
Freshman Kelly Branson had a hat trick to lead Pinewood. Jordan Berke and Nicole Colonna added the other tallies. Gretchen Olsen, Courtney Copriviza and Leah Hess provided assists while Hannah Ditzler was solid in the cage.
In the PAL Bay Division, Menlo-Atherton got a first-half goal from junior Sabiha Viswanathan off of an assist by Liz Cruz for a 1-0 win over host Terra Nova on Wednesday. The Bears improved to 6-4-1 in league (8-6-3 overall) with three games remaining before playoffs.
Robert Hellman tallied the winning goal and later added another tally to pace Sacred Heart Prep to a 4-1 victory over visiting Eastside Prep on Wednesday. The victory kept the Gators (9-0-2, 12-2-3) tied for first place in the WBAL with Menlo (9-1-2), both with 29 points.
Nick Salzman tallied SHP's first goal off an assist by Andrew Segre, with Segre making it a 3-1 match in the second half on an assist by Derek Chou.
Just down the road, host Menlo School kept its title hopes alive by beating visiting Pinewood, 6-0, for its third straight league win. Menlo (9-1-2, 12-3-3) took the lead early on and never looked back. Senior Ryan Karle scored three times for Menlo while Timmy Costa went from goalie to striker, making the most of the rare opportunity by scoring twice.
In the SCVAL El Camino Division, senior Chris Meredith scored three goals as Palo Alto defeated host Wilcox, 5-0, and moved into second place.
Meredith provided the winning goal in the third minute before Gen Murphy made it 2-0 with another unassisted goal just four minutes later. Meredith scored twice more in the first half, the second assisted by Christian Huard, before Fernando Rodriguez capped the scoring in the second half.
The Vikings are 7-2-1 in league (12-4-2 overall) and trail only Fremont with two matches remaining.