to the alter
After reading about how their Menlo School girls' soccer team had been relegated to bridesmaid status in the West Bay Athletic League (Foothill Division) the past three seasons, assistant coaches Buffie Ward and Jorge Chen had a plan when the Knights clinched a co-title last week.
They went out and bought rings, but not just any ordinary rings. These were jumbo, plastic baubles that lit up.
"When we gave them the rings, we told them they were no longer bridesmaids," Ward said. "Now, they were the brides."
Before they could wear the rings, Menlo still had to win the division title outright. All the Knights needed was a tie against three-time defending champion Sacred Heart Prep on Tuesday.
"We knew (about the tie)," said Menlo senior Elle Laub. "But, we wanted to win."
Menlo did just that with a stirring 2-1 victory, the team's 10th straight triumph that earned the program's first league crown since 1991 when the Knights competed in the Girls Private School League.
"I'm so happy," said Menlo coach Donoson FitzGerald. "It was a great effort."
FitzGerald, in his 23rd season with the Knights, also coached the '91 team. He knew this group was particularly good.
"We have a talented group of soccer players," he said. "We never really talked about it (winning a title). When we started league, I just told them there are 12 challenges coming up."
The Knights were successful in 11 of them while finishing the regular season with a 13-4-2 overall mark. During its championship season, Menlo swept Sacred Heart Prep for the first time in four years of WBAL action.
Tuesday's win was best, of course, for what it represented. As soon as the match ended, the long-awaited celebration began. All the Menlo players donned shirts with the names of the team's six seniors on the back and put on their special rings.
"Today is our wedding day," said Laub, "because we get to be the brides."
On Senior Day, it was appropriate that Laub got Menlo rolling with a header off a corner kick by sophomore Chandler Wickers in the 16th minute. It was her first goal of the season after missing 14 games following leg surgery in November.
Sacred Heart Prep (8-3-1, 10-5-5) answered in the 33rd minute when junior Kendall Jager got free for a moment and launched a shot from 18-yards out and over the out-stretched hands of a leaping Menlo goalie, Julia Dressel.
The Gators missed a great opportunity to take the lead in the third minute of the second half when junior Ali Jordan had a one-on-one with Menlo junior keeper Kelly McConnell, who rushed out to snuff the shot. SHP got the rebound and fired off another shot, but two Menlo defenders covered the goal mouth and kept the attempt out of the net.
In the 17th minute, Menlo continued to push at the offensive end and Wickers was able to convert for a 2-1 lead off an assist from Sienna Stritter. It was Wickers' 14th goal in WBAL play. Menlo's defense of senior Shannon Lacy, junior Hannah Rubin, junior Rachel Pinsker, sophomore Amanda McFarland, and freshmen Alexandra Walker were under pressure but played good team defense and came up with many big defensive stops.
The Menlo players also put the 1991 title to rest. After noticing a banner in the Menlo gym noting the year of the previous championship, Dressel came up with the idea of having the players write 1991 on their arms or legs during the league season.
"We thought it was inspirational," said Laub. "It totally clicked with the whole team."
On Tuesday, the Knights added 2012 and, after wrapping up the victory, crossed out the 1991. Mission accomplished.
Menlo emerged on top despite missing top offensive threat Jaye Boissiere. The sophomore was one of 48 players called up for a U.S. Under-15 Girls' National Team training camp in Sunrise, Fla. The camp runs Feb. 11-18, which means Boissiere will return in time for the start of the Central Coast Section Division III playoffs next week.
In Sunnyvale, Priory finished second in the WBAL (Foothill Division) for the fourth straight season despite polishing off host King's Academy, 4-2, in a regular-season finale on Tuesday.
Eugenia Jernick scored in the seventh minute off an assist from Darrah Shields. In the 42nd minute, Shields scored on a throw-in by Siobhan Gillis. Two minutes later, Molly Simpson scored with Sarah Zuckerman assisting. And, in the 53rd minute, Shields took a through ball from Jernick and scored again. All the goals were scored by seniors. Shields finished with 14 goals and seven assists in WBAL play.
The Panthers (10-2, 13-4-2) needed first-place Menlo to lose in order to force a co-championship. Priory will receive the WBAL's No. 2 seed into the upcoming CCS playoffs.
In San Jose, Castilleja's 4-1 victory over Notre Dame-San Jose propelled the Gators into a playoff game against WBAL Skyline Division champ Crystal Springs Uplands, on Thursday. The winner advances to the CCS playoffs.
Castilleja's first goal came in the 22nd minute when junior Katherine Hobbs threaded a pass through the defense to senior Emily Mosbacher, who placed a left-footed shot low right. Sophomore Gabby Kaplan scored the second goal of the half off a pass from freshman Victoria Pu.
In the 53rd minute, Mosbacher was fouled just outside the box, but drilled the free kick past the keeper. Castilleja's final goal came off a perfectly placed pass by freshman Anna Verwillow that was collected by Kaplan, who placed the ball deftly around the keeper.
In the PAL Bay Division, Menlo-Atherton fell into a third for third place with Woodside following a 1-1 deadlock with host Terra Nova in Pacifica. The Bears (6-3-4, 10-5-4) got a first-half goal from Jen Kirst off an assist from fellow senior Meryssa Thompson. M-A has played to three ties in its past four matches.
Menlo-Atherton played without sophomore Zoe Pacalin, who was one of 48 players called up for a U.S. Under-15 Girls' National Team training camp in Sunrise, Fla. The camp runs Feb. 11-18, which means Pacalin will return in time for the start of the CCS playoffs next week.
Sacred Heart Prep coach Armando del Rio promised his players he'd keep his facial hair until the Gators dropped a boys' soccer match this season. Either his team likes facial hair or not losing, because del Rio still won't be touching a razor this week after SHP defeated host King's Academy, 2-0, to cap an unbeaten West Bay Athletic League season on Wednesday.
The Gators improved to 12-0-2 in league (16-0-4 overall) as Brendan Spillane scored on a penalty kick and Andrew Segre scored off an assist from Will Mishra, both in the first half. SHP's defense, led by senior keeper Max Polkinhorne continued to blank the Knights in the second half.
The victory avenged last season's loss to King's, which marred an otherwise perfect league season as the Gators finished 12-1-1.
Sacred Heart Prep's two-year record heading into next week's Central Coast Section playoffs is 33-2-5. The Gators' next goal will be to win their first-ever CCS match since moving from the fall to winter season in 2009.
In other WBAL finales on Wednesday:
Menlo School wrapped up the season with a 6-1 victory, which included a score by the Knights' everyday goalie, over visiting Harker. The Knights finished the season with a 9-2-3 mark to take third place in a tight WBAL race and went 12-2-5 overall.
Against Harker, junior Max Parker scored twice. Senior Henry Bard, junior Julien Viret, sophomore John Strong and junior goalie-sometimes-forward Timmy Costa each added a goal for the Knights.
In the PAL Bay Division, Menlo-Atherton earned no worse than a tie for the championship following a 2-0 victory over visiting Carlmont on Wednesday in a regular-season finale. The Bears (10-0-4, 15-0-5) got goals from Elvis Abarca (assisted by Aaron Oro) and Tom Kaheli, with Edgardo Molina providing the assist. The Bears started the day with 31 points and tied with San Mateo.
In the SCVAL De Anza Division, Palo Alto finished up one of the most frustrating and unsuccessful seasons in school history following a 1-1 deadlock with visiting Milpitas on Wednesday. The Vikings finished 0-9-3 in league and 0-15-5 overall, perhaps the first time in school history going through a season without a victory.
The Trojans (0-8-4 league) had only two shots on goal in the first half, but scored on a rebound on one of them, while Paly had eight shots. In the second half, the Vikings stepped up the pressure. With 10 minutes gone, Paul Stefanski was taken down in the box and fellow junior Kirby Lee converted the penalty kick.
Both Milpitas and Palo Alto will be moving down to the SCVAL El Camino Division next season.
Elsewhere, Mountain View (10-1-1) wrapped up a championship season with a 2-0 victory over visiting Gunn. The Titans finished 5-6-1 (8-9-3 overall).