M-A boys' connection to history
in CCS is their team manager
It has been a long time since the Menlo-Atherton boys' soccer team has captured a Central Coast Section championship. The last one came in 1994 and the first arrived in 1985.
Since 18 years has passed since Juan Camahort coached the Bears to a 16-2-1 season and section crown in '94 and 27 seasons since Frank Mangiola guided M-A to a 23-1-1 mark in '85, there is little to connect those titles to the present team.
There is one, however. Katherine (Kitty) Moore was the team's manager in '85 and '94 and she remains in that position today after 37 years on the job.
Now in her mid-80s, Miss Kitty (as she's fondly referred to) is winding down her 'career' with the Bears. It has been a love affair that has spanned decades.
Miss Kitty is known as the spirit of Menlo-Atherton boys' soccer. Her sons Tom (1969), Andy (1979) and Johnny (1983) all played at M-A while her oldest, Roger, attended Menlo School. Her daughter, Mary, also attended Menlo-Atherton but did not play.
Miss Kitty began cleaning, stitching and buying uniforms in 1975 and just stayed. She has attended every game over the years, home and away, but only made it to home games this season.
"I don't go to away games any more," she said recently. "At some schools, you have to walk almost a mile to get to the field. I can't do that any more."
But, with the aid of a walking cart that helps her transport drinks and snacks. She always brings red vine licorice, plus water, lemon tea and hot cider.
"The parents have been very helpful," she said.
Miss Kitty doesn't like the night matches or the rainy ones, but she has been there through darkness and dampness this season while watching her boys compile a 15-0-5 record. That mark, plus a co-championship (with San Mateo) in the PAL Bay Division, earned the Bears the No. 1 seed in the CCS Division I playoffs.
M-A, which earned an opening bye, will get down to work on Saturday against No. 8 Santa Teresa (18-3) at Milpitas High at 10 a.m. Santa Teresa eliminated No. 9 Carlmont on Wednesday, 4-1.
The bracket isn't an easy one for M-A, despite its lofty seed. Serra (14-3-4) is seeded No. 4 and a possible semifinal opponent next week. In the other side of the bracket is No. 2 Mountain View (14-4-2) and No. 3 Watsonville (15-1-2), either offering a tough challenge for M-A. Mountain View eliminated the Bears last season, 2-0 in the semifinals.
That was the furthest the current M-A seniors have advanced in their careers. In 2009 and 2010, the Bears bowed out in the first round.
This team, however, is different. The Bears have been ranked No. 23 in the nation for two weeks, in the ESPNHS Fab 50 Rankings. Menlo-Atherton is rated No. 6 in the state and No. 2 in Northern California, trailing only No. 7 Alisal.
Alisal, somewhat surprisingly, is seeded only No. 5 in the CCS Division I bracket. Alisal won its opener, 4-0 over Sequoia and will play Serra on Saturday. Another win will match Alisal and possibly M-A in the semifinals. Watsonville is ranked No. 32 nationally and Mountain View is not ranked.
"The thing that has impressed me most about this season is that we're still undefeated, despite having a lot of unexpected hiccups — such as taking until just a few weeks ago to find out best starting 11," said M-A coach Jacob Pickard. "We had hoped to go undefeated in league this season, but didn't realize the road would be so bumpy."
The Bears navigated the PAL Bay Division season with a hard-earned 10-0-4 record, winning the matches they were supposed to and tying others while preventing losses.
"The success we're finding this season is not too dissimilar from last year's, but there are minor — important — differences. One example is that we've been able to pull out a result this season in tough circumstances, whereas last year we folded and lost. I think the mentality of the team and attention to the psychological aspects of the game has enabled them to struggle through difficult phases of a match or tough conditions and still find a way to get a (winning) result."
Experience could be a big reason for M-A's success this season, as the Bears have 16 seniors on their 26-player roster. The senior captains are Edgardo Molina, Will Cabral and Aaron Oro. Molina is the offensive catalyst and as a scorer and distributor.
"The team/system actually was not built around Edgardo, but does play a style that suits him," Pickard said. "The system of play that we're using this year was conceived and implemented three years ago between Edgardo's freshman and sophomore year. As a freshman, he was on the varsity squad (only the second freshman we've ever had on varsity in my time), but he was deployed as a right-back, so we certainly didn't choose it for Edgardo. We chose a system that would be creative, attack-minded, challenging to learn, as well as play against, and it just so happens to exploit Edgardo's style of play!"
Having Molina, of course, is a coach's dream. The same could be said about having Kitty on board to take care of all the little details.
"I remember the first time I heard of Kitty," Pickard said. "When I was interviewing for the position, I clearly remember being told about some lady named Kitty and how great she was. Obviously, until I met her and coached a few games, I had no idea how fantastic she is and how much work she does for the boys.
"I'm been very fortunate to have her help and support with so many administrative and organizational issues. The players have always taken to Kitty. The boys are not foolish and can see when someone really cares about them, so they have a lot of respect and admiration for her because of that."
The feeling is mutual.
"The boys are so sweet and nice, and helpful," she said.
"Each year she to know all the players, freshman through senior," said Peggy Propp, who has a senior son, Alan, on the team. "And, though each year one class graduates, there are three other classes of boys she knows well and it keeps her going. She lives for these games."
Miss Kitty made blankets to put on the cold aluminum bleachers for this season.
"That was my project over the summer, the newest and last," she said.
"She is legendary with the referees and other coaches and is thus allowed to sit on the bench with the boys, where she always has a smile, a bucket of red vine licorice, as well as Gatorade and water," said Amy Oro, whose son Aaron is one of three captains. "She manages and launders all the team uniforms, not a small or pleasant task."
Camahort, who coached the Bears from 1991-2004 and to their second CCS title, dropped by an M-A match recently and renewed his long-time friendship with Miss Kitty.
"I didn't have to worry about anything," Camahort said. "She's so organized."
Camahort recalled the time in 1998 when the Bears were playing in the CCS semifinals in the pouring rain. The weather was so bad that he couldn't believe the game was allowed to go on.
"But, she was there," he remembered. "Incredible."
In those days, Miss Kitty attended every game, home and away."
Whenever I got to the field for a game, she was already set up," Camahort said.
Camahort always enjoyed the hot cider.
"The time I was coaching, my sugar level must have shot up!" he said.
Camahort had a cup of the cider the day he stopped by. He sat next to Miss Kitty and chatted while watching the Bears take the PAL Bay Division lead with a 2-0 win over San Mateo.
Camahort was impressed with the Bears.
"They have the fire and they keep their aggression under control," he said. "This could be their year. They could go all the way."
And a CCS title might be a fitting exit for Miss Kitty.
"I could return if they make it or not," she said. "We'll see. We'll see."