Menlo School girls, M-A boys
hope to end title droughts
It's perhaps appropriate that the Menlo School girls and Menlo-Atherton boys have advanced to Central Coast Section championship soccer matches on Saturday.
Both teams are deserving, of course, or they wouldn't have made it this far. Moreover, both programs are long overdue when it comes to a postseason payoff.
Menlo has never won a CCS title outright, having come close with three straight ties from 1988-90. Menlo-Atherton does have two section crowns in the school's trophy case, but the last one came in 1994.
So, it's time for both to step out of the shadows and into the spotlight.
"I think we feel good about our chances," said Menlo coach Donoson FitzGerald.
The Knights and Bears each will have a chance to win section titles after posting 1-0 victories in their respective semifinal matches on Wednesday night.
Menlo put itself in position to end a 22-year title drought after getting a penalty kick from sophomore Jay Boissiere (a pool member of the U.S. Women's U-15 National Team) in the 61st minute after sophomore Chandler Wickers was fouled inside the 18-yard box. That was enough as the No. 4 Knights (14-4-3) upset top-seeded Scotts Valley (13-5-4) in the CCS Division III semifinals at Valley Christian in San Jose.
Menlo will meet No. 2 seed Santa Cruz (14-4-3) in the title match on Saturday, also at Valley Christian, at 3 p.m. The Cardinals advanced with a 3-0 victory over No. 11 Sacred Heart Prep (12-6-5) at Gilroy High. Before that, Santa Cruz knocked out Priory, 2-0.
The Menlo-Santa Cruz showdown is a rematch of the 2010 quarterfinals, which Santa Cruz won in overtime on the way to beating Scotts Valley for the title.
In the past 10 years, Menlo has played in the CCS playoffs seven times and lost to the eventual champion each time. FitzGerald isn't looking to make it eight times in 11 years.
"None of these kids know that history," FitzGerald said. "I think they'll look at it as, hey, we beat the first-place team from that league and now we face the second-place team."
The Knights last played in a title match in 2000, losing it to Santa Cruz. Previously, the Knights played in those three straight section finals and got only ties instead of titles.
Wednesday's semifinal was a battle of league champions — Menlo from the West Bay Athletic League and Scotts Valley from the Santa Cruz County Athletic League.
As has been the case throughout the season, Menlo's defense was crucial to the outcome. Senior Shannon Lacy, junior Hannah Rubin, sophomore Sienna Stritter and freshman Alexandra Walker all stood out along with midfielder Alex Tom. The Knights' goalie tandem of juniors Julia Dressel and Kelly McConnell again chalked up another shutout.
McConnell came up with a key save in the final ticks of the clock when the Falcons had a long throw-in that bounced a couple of times in front of the goal before McConnell gathered it in. Menlo wound up with six shots on goal and held the Falcons to none.
"All the girls played really well," FitzGerald said. "They were really aggressive. We deserved to win; we were the better team."
The Menlo players will have their Sharpies ready one more time on Saturday. The players have been writing "1990" on their arms and legs during the postseason, in honor of the program's last CCS co-championship.
"If and when we win," FitzGerald said, "they'll be able to write 2012."
The Menlo-Atherton boys, meanwhile, defended their No. 1 seed while improving to 17-0-5 with a 1-0 triumph over No. 4 Serra at Del Mar High in San Jose.
The Bears will take on No. 3 seed Watsonville (17-1-2) in the CCS Division I title match on Saturday at Gilroy High at 3 p.m. Menlo-Atherton last played in, and won, a section crown in 1994.
The Bears come into the match ranked No. 18 in the nation in the ESPNHS Powerade Fab 50. M-A ranks No. 4 in the state in the poll and No. 1 in Northern California. Watsonsville is No. 28 nationally, No. 11 in the state and No. 2 in NorCal.
The teams are likely as equal as they are talented.
In Wednesday's semifinal that saw M-A and Serra battle to a scoreless deadlock, the Bears earned a man advantage after sophomore Elvis Abarca Cervantes took an inadvertent elbow to the face as the two raced downfield.
"I felt that the sending off (red card) was definitely a huge help," said M-A coach Jacob Pickard, "but that we felt we should've been ahead even before the sending off in the first half."
With a man advantage, the Bears broke through in the 57th minute when Edgardo Molina scored off an assist from fellow senior Alan Propp.
"It was another solid performance against a team that tried to prevent us from playing the way we like to," said Pickard. "We're looking forward to enjoying the experience of playing in a CCS final on Saturday."