Palo Alto boys join
Gunn and Priory girls
in the quarterfinals
This season probably has been more difficult than needed be for the Palo Alto boys' soccer team, which finish fourth in the SCVAL De Anza Division and needed an at-large berth to qualify for the Central Coast Section playoffs just two years after tying for the Division I championship.
Like most teams, the Vikings suffered through injuries. They lost starting keeper Austin Shiau, then lost his replacement — Kris Hoglund — to a broken leg. Paly also went through a stretch of five straight division matches that resulted in ties.
Had just one of those ties been a victory, the Vikings would have finished second instead of fourth in league play. Paly wound up with an unusually high eight ties this season.
Despite all the problems, the No. 6-seeded Vikings (9-3-8) have advanced to the CCS Division I quarterfinals and will face No. 3 Menlo-Atherton (13-3-2) on Saturday at Gunn High at noon.
Paly lost to the Bears on Dec. 9 and went 12 more matches without another loss until falling to division champ Mountain View on the final day of the regular season.
"To say the least, there is a lot more at stake in this game," said Paly coach Don Briggs.
The Vikings gave themselves the opportunity to avenge that loss to M-A by defeating No. 11 Milpitas, 2-0, in a CCS opener on Wednesday. The host Trojans, from the SCVAL El Camino Division, finished 12-7-2.
"We received a fortunate break five minutes into the second half when a Milpitas player hit the ball with his hand in the penalty box," Briggs said.
Senior John Richardson took the penalty kick and placed it into the upper left corner.
"The keeper guessed right, but could only get a hand on the ball," Briggs said.
Palo Alto survived a few scary moments after that, including a direct-kick goal that was called back due to an offside. The Vikings got a little breathing room with five minutes remaining when Matt Waymouth sent a cross to James Maa, who finished with a shot into the left corner of the cage.
Paly played without junior standout defender Gerrit van Zyll, who had to sit after receiving a red card in the previous match. He'll be back for Saturday's quarterfinal. Austin Smith replaced van Zyll at center back and teamed with fellow senior Nattai Malchin and sophomores Grant Shorin and Peter Laminette to stop the counter-attacking Trojans, who had gotten 24 goals in 12 league matches from Ramiro Ceja and Andrew Shin. Both were blanked on Wednesday.
Richardson and freshman Josh Totte did a nice job of controlling the midfield for Paly, while Shiau had several nice saves in goal against Milpitas corner kicks.
Should Palo Alto advance to the semifinals next Tuesday or Wednesday, the Vikings may have a chance to avenge another loss in a rematch with No. 2 Mountain View.
Division III boys
Sacred Heart Prep had the second-best record of any team, boys or girls, heading into the CCS playoffs. The Gators were 17-1-1.
A superlative record like that, however, provides no guarantee in the postseason. In fact, the CCS playoffs already are over for the Gators, who dropped a 3-2 decision to visiting Soquel on Wednesday in a Division III opener in Atherton.
Sacred Heart Prep first-year coach Armando del Rio had hoped for much better than Wednesday's result. In fact, when he signed on to be head coach, he had a specific goal.
"I wanted to win league, of course," del Rio said, "but my biggest goal was to get that first (CCS) match."
Prior to del Rio's arrival, Sacred Heart had won back-to-back West Bay Athletic League titles under Matt Dodge, advancing to the CCS playoffs and losing in the first round each time.
This season, the Gators won their third straight WBAL crown — going 12-1-1 — and once again qualified for the Division III playoffs.
On Wednesday, with Dodge on hand to see if history could be made, the No. 7 Gators suffered their early exit at the hands of No. 10 Soquel (10-7-1) despite grabbing an early 1-0 lead. SHP finished the season 17-2-1, frustrated and unfulfilled.
"When we were ahead, I thought we were going to win," del Rio said.
SHP senior Alec Mishra gave the Gators that lead when he made a nice run down the right sideline and ripped a shot from 20 yards out that found net with 17:32 left in the first half.
Soquel, however, tied things up with a penalty kick with less than five minutes before halftime, after a player was pushed from behind while standing in the penalty box.
"I think it rattled our team," del Rio said. "We never really seemed to bounce back from that."
Soquel scored twice more in the second half, once at 32:55 and again at 16:52, on what del Rio described as "two unbelievable goals that no goalie could stop."
The Gators made a game of it with under 12 minutes to play when Kyle Scherba took a free kick from just outside the penalty box. The shot initially was stopped by the Soquel keeper, but the ball squirted loose from his grasp and SHP's Andrew Liotta was there to tap it in for a 3-2 match.
Sacred Heart Prep had two more decent chances to tie, but ran out of time as Soquel's defense hunkered down and clogged passing lanes while playing defensively.
"It was hard to watch us being controlled like that," del Rio said. "When we're pressured like that in the midfield, we've struggled. It was difficult to find good passing lanes."
Sacred Heart Prep dominated the WBAL again this season and that's part of the problem.
"I don't feel like we improve in league play," he said.
The other concern for del Rio is how his team was prevented from playing the kind of game it wanted to play. Soquel stayed back on defense, allowed SHP to attack and then counterattacked. The Gators didn't react well in the second half and it cost them two goals, albeit great shots.
The final whistle signaled the end of the prep soccer careers of SHP seniors Robert Ojeda, Marcelino Perez, Christian Thaure, Caleb Young, Jack Odell, Mishra and Scherba.
In another Division III match, Priory saw its first-ever appearance in CCS end in a 5-4 loss to host and No. 8 seed Gonzales (10-7-1) on Wednesday. Priory was seeded 9, finishing with a 12-7-1 record.
Division I girls
Alyssa Perreault took a pass from Caroline Anderson and scored with two minutes left in the second overtime to lift Gunn to a dramatic victory over visiting Carlmont in a first-round match on Wednesday night.
Had Perreault not scored, the game would have gone to penalty kicks. The No. 8-seeded Titans (10-6-5), who have won four straight, will host No. 1 St. Francis (14-3-3) on Saturday at 2 p.m.
"St. Francis is a doozy," said Gunn coach Damian Cohen. "This girl going to Stanford . . . that girl going to Santa Clara. We are in for a dogfight."
Gunn will have the services of freshman standout Sarah Robinson, who missed Wednesday's match while away in Costa Rica at a national team training camp.
"I know what Sarah has meant to our team and I know we wouldn't be in CCS without her," said Cohen, who did miss Robinson but clearly understood the situation. "She gains experience with the ODP/national camp experiences and shares such with the other girls. In turn, we improve."
While Robinson will be back, Gunn won't have Perreault.
"Sadly, there was a death in her family," Cohen explained. "She will be attending the funeral."
Division III girls
Fifth-seeded Priory advanced to the quarterfinals with a 6-0 romp over No. 12 and host Anzar on Wednesday in Hollister. The Panthers (12-3-4) will face No. 4 Santa Catalina (13-4-1) on Saturday at Valley Christian at noon.
Sophomore Mariana Galvan, who missed a week of the WBAL season while away at a U-18 national team training camp, led the Panthers with four goals.
Darrah Shields and Sarah Zuckerman scored the other goals while Eugenia Jernick, Alyson Perna, Shields and Galvan all provided assists.
In another opener:
Menlo School saw its season end in a 2-0 loss to host Valley Christian in San Jose. Ninth-seed Menlo (6-5-9) had six first-half corners and nine first-half shots but could not find the back of the net. The No. 8-seeded Warriors (12-3-4) had two first-half shots and scored in the last 10 minutes of the half.
In the second half, both teams created opportunities but again only VC scored — the goal coming with 13 minutes left. Menlo was led by defenders Shannon Lacy, Sophia King, and Alex Tom and forward Amanda McFarland.
The Knights, however, lose only two seniors from this team — starter Kelly Cavan and reserve Ali Hahm — while returning 18 players, including sophomore keepers Kelly McConnell and Julia Dressel.