Those were the good old days for the Gators' soccer team, which played during the fall while Division I and II competed in the winter.
Sacred Heart Prep made the most of its time then by winning seven titles and finishing second seven times from 1988-2007. Getting to the finals was pretty much a given in those days against what is now perceived as weaker competition.
"It was a CCS championship nonetheless," reminded del Rio.
The Gators moved to the West Bay Athletic League for the 2008-09 season and suddenly everything change. Gone were teams like Redwood Christian, Fremont Christian and Valley Christian-Dublin. They were replaced by the likes of Santa Cruz, Sacred Heart Cathedral and Prospect.
"Winning (a CCS title) is now a lot tougher," said del Rio. "I'd love for them to experience that."
Sacred Heart Prep took the first step toward that possibility by eliminating No. 9 seed Carmel, 2-1, to open the CCS Division III playoffs on Tuesday in Atherton. For the Gators, it was a breakthrough victory.
Four previous trips to the section had produced no victories for the Gators. Whether it was a jinx or a curse, it's now gone.
The No. 12-seeded Padres finished 9-4-6 while the No. 5 Gators improved to 16-2-3 and moved on to the quarterfinals for the second straight year. SHP had a first-round bye last season, thus the second-round berth.
This time, the Gators had to earn their way into the next round with their historic victory.
"Everyone's excited," said del Rio, who improved to 49-5-8 in his third year as head coach. "It's been one of this group's goals. Now we need to move on."
Tuesday's victory was the first section playoff win for the Gators since they finished second in the Division III (fall) playoffs in 2007. Since those glory days, the Gators have come up empty.
While SHP had every right to rejoice after Tuesday's win, there was no overt celebration. SHP treated the victory like any other and del Rio was safe from having a tub of water dumped on him.
"This should have come a long time ago," del Rio said of the long-awaited victory. "We all feel satisfaction."
The feeling was well deserved, given the frustration the Gators have felt the previous season. Last year, for example, SHP took a 16-0-4 record into the postseason before North Monterey County ended the unbeaten season with a 2-1 defeat. A year earlier, the Gators finished 17-2-1.
"Last year we had a team that could win it all," said del Rio. "We used to talk about CCS championships. Now, it's just one game at a time. Saturday is the next focus."
Sacred Heart Prep will face No. 4 San Mateo (12-4-4) in the quarterfinals on Saturday at Burlingame High at noon. The Bearcats bounced No. 13 Santa Cruz (10-11) on Wednesday, 4-0. San Mateo tied for the CCS Division II title last season.
"It's a game we can win," del Rio said. "We seem to rise to the challenge against good teams."
Sacred Heart Prep didn't exactly do that to start Tuesday's match, despite controlling play early on and having three good shot attempts that missed. Carmel shook things up after a corner kick wasn't cleared and eventually converted by Trey Coppinger with 12:12 left in the first half.
"At first we were a little shocked," said SHP senior Robert Hellman. "But, we knew we had a lot of time to go."
In stoppage time, Hellman got the Gators on the board after taking a cross from senior Willy Lamb and heading it in. That sent SHP into intermission with renewed vigor.
"It was a huge momentum swing," said Hellman.
"I think it woke us up," del Rio said of Carmel's goal. "We felt like we were controlling the game. Unfortunately it (wakeup call) came when we were down a goal. After that, the difference-makers came out."
Hellman and Lamb teamed up again in the second half. After Hellman fired a hard free kick at the Carmel keeper that was punched away, Lamb launched a corner kick into a pack of players. Hellman got a head on it and made it a 2-1 match. The Gators missed on a few other scoring opportunities and survived a few Carmel near-makes for the triumph.
"It was huge," Hellman said of the victory. "It was like a curse for us, that we hadn't won before. Now we're looking to push forward."
It could be said that the Palo Alto boys are also looking to do the same thing. Only one year after going winless and missing the CCS playoffs, the Vikings are back.
Paly made the most of its demotion to the SCVAL El Camino Division and won 13 matches during the regular season. That success continued on Wednesday as the Vikings defeated host Evergreen Valley in penalty kicks after playing to a 2-2 tie in regulation.
Palo Alto senior Chris Meredith scored a pair of goals during its deadlock with No. 8 seed Evergreen Valley, before the Vikings prevailed in penalty kicks, 4-3, to advance to the Division I quarterfinals.
The No. 9-seeded Vikings (13-5-3) next will play No. 1 Alisal (17-0-3) on Saturday at Milpitas High at 10 a.m. Palo Alto and Alisal met in the finals of the Oak Grove Gold Cup in December, with the Vikings winning on penalty kicks, 4-2, after the teams had played to a 1-1 tie.
Wednesday's match was very similar as Paly came from behind to take the lead at 2-1 and had a one-on-one with the Evergreen keeper to nearly finish off the host team. The shot, however, was just wide of the left post.
Unfortunately for the Vikings, just two minutes later it was Evergreen's Everado Cross taking a deflection in the middle of the box and putting it past Paly keeper Tony Maharaj to tie the game at 2.
Despite a flurry of opportunities, neither team scored in the final five minutes of regulation time. Paly and Evergreen went to overtime (two 10-minute periods with no golden goal). Both teams had several chances to score, including a Paly forward being taken down at the top of the box and an Evergreen player having a point-blank shot from 10 yards out that was blocked by Maharaj. Overtime ended with the match still deadlocked.
Maharaj blocked Evergreen's first attempt in PKs while Paly's Kirby Gee was successful. Alex Chin and Fernando Rodriguez both scored while Maharaj blocked one more shot. Paly's fourth attempt, and the win, went sailing through the football goal posts while Evergreen continued to score. It finally came to freshmen Dami Bolarinwa, who finessed a shot away from Evergreen's diving keeper for the deciding point.
In other boys' action:
In other boys' action:
In Burlingame, No. 10 Menlo School got a goal from senior Ryan Karle in the 25th minute and held on for a 1-0 victory over host and No. 7 Burlingame (7-7-7). The triumph was the Knights' first in section action since a 4-1 win over Capuchino in 2002.
"The boys are really excited, getting back to CCS," Menlo first-year coach Marc Kerrest said.
Menlo made the only goal it would need in the first half. Sophomore Peter Rosston took the ball at midfield and found Karle, who turned on his defender and scored on the near post.
"We knew they were a good team and had a good defense," Kerrest said. "We knew it was going to be important to get that first goal."
The Knights faced a defensive-minded team, but came up with its own inpenatrable line and thwarted several attempts in the last 10 minutes of each half. Senior Timmy Costa made some big saves, including one in injury time and was aided by the strong back line of juniors Matt Myers and Justin Wang, senior Jack Redman and freshman Mason Brady. Sophomore Kyle Perez paced the midfield play.
The Knights (13-5-3) next will play No. 2 Soledad (14-3-3) in Saturday's Division III quarterfinals at Gilroy High at 10 a.m. The Aztecs won the Mission Trail Athletic League with a 9-0-2 mark, and have a 23-goal scorer in Michael Sanchez. One of those ties came against Carmel, the Knights' only common opponent who they defeated 2-0.
In Mountain View, No. 12-seeded Menlo-Atherton (9-8-3) dropped a 4-1 decision to No. 5 Mountain View (16-2-3) in a Division I opener. Nicky Hug provided the Bears' only goal with a penalty kick in the 78th minute.
Palo Alto made up for missing out on last year's postseason playoffs by advancing to the second round of CCS Division I play with a 5-0 victory over San Benito on Wednesday night.
The No. 6-seeded Vikings (14-4-2) got the eventual winning goal in the first half from Sunny Lyu. Paly broke it open against No. 11 seed San Benito (11-4-4) with four goals in the second half. Nina Kelty, Lena Chang, Anna Dukovic and Jacey Pederson all scored. Megan Tall added two assists.
Palo Alto, the SCVAL El Camino Divison champ, now moves on to Saturday's quarterfinals against No. 3 seed and SCVAL De Anza Division champ Los Gatos (14-3-2) at Milpitas at noon.
In other girls' action:
In Monterey, Sarah Zuckerman recorded a hat trick and Lexi Garrity scored two goals for No. 12 Priory in a 5-1 victory over No. 5 seed Santa Catalina on Wednesday in a CCS Division III first-round match.
Erin Simpson had four assists as the Panthers improved to 8-4-6 overall. Priory next will take on West Bay Athletic League (Foothill Division) rival King's Academy (8-6-5) on Saturday at St. Francis High in a quarterfinal match at noon.
Priory is playing without senior standout Mariana Galvan, who is training in Mexico City with Mexico's U-20 National Team.
In Pebble Beach, No. 10 Pinewood (14-4-3) saw its season end in a 3-2 overtime loss to No. 7 R.L. Stevenson in a Division III opener. Olivia Biggs (assist Courtney Copriviza) and Jordan Berke (assist Amrita Mecker) twice gave the Panthers a lead in the first half "and both times we let them come back," said Pinewood coach Michael Tetzlaff.
RLS scored the winning goal in the first 10-minute overtime period.
"This was not our best performance," Tetzlaff said. "I believe we were the better team with more convincing chances to score but, overall, we did not play our best game."
Tetzlaff said there were some questionable referee decisions, some "bonehead" deficiencies with his defense and injuries to key players (Mecker and Maddie Augustine) and "we were not poised and savvy enough to put all that aside and win."
RLS (12-4-5) now advances to Saturday's quarterfinals and will play No. 2 Menlo School (12-3-5) at Valley Christian at 2 p.m. Menlo is the defending Division III champion.
In Atherton, host and No. 7 Menlo-Atherton got goals from Sarah McLeod and Olivia DelRosso to hold off No. 10 Leland (11-5-2) in a Division I opener. The Bears (10-6-5) next will play PAL Bay Division rival and No. 2 seed Woodside (17-0-3) on Saturday in a quarterfinal at Burlingame High at 10 a.m.
Also in Atherton, host and No. 8 Sacred Heart Prep (9-5-6) saw its season end in a 2-0 loss to No. 9 Live Oak (10-8-2).