Menlo girls are closing in on a second soccer title
If's not a matter of 'if' for the Menlo School girls' soccer team. Rather, it's simply when. The West Bay Athletic League title will go to the Knights for a second straight year.
Menlo opened up an eight-point lead over second-place Sacred Heart Prep following a 1-0 victory over visiting Crystal Springs on Tuesday.
The division-leading Knights improved to 7-0 in league (9-2-4 overall) while Sacred Heart Prep and Priory each had to settle for ties. Menlo took 21 points into Thursday's match at Notre Dame-San Jose while second-place SHP is well back with 13.
Menlo, which won its 17th straight division match against Crystal Springs, can clinch its second straight division title by winning its next two matches, giving the Knights 27 points. With four matches left, the best SHP can finish is with 25 points while the best Priory or King's Academy can finish is with 23 points.
Depending on what happened against Notre Dame-SJ, Menlo likely can clinch on Tuesday at home by beating King's Academy.
Priory, meanwhile, visited Sacred Heart Prep on Thursday in a must-win match for both teams. Only the top two finishers earn automatic berths into the Central Coast Section playoffs. The third-place finisher will have to face a playoff game against the Skyline Division winner for the league's third section berth.
That's what Menlo faced three straight seasons prior to last year, when the Knights finally broke through with their first league crown since 1991. By doing that, Menlo shed its bridesmaid role and finally became a bride.
"This 'honeymoon' season is turning out to be sweeter than the 'wedding' season of last year!" said Menlo coach Donoson FitzGerald. "But, we still have lots of work to do and this group of amazing girls will get it done!"
Menlo ran its unbeaten streak to 10 by holding off Crystal Springs. The lone goal was scored in the 34th minute of the first half by senior Priya Medberry on an nicely executed eight-yard volley. The play began with a cross from sophomore Amber Mallett that was directed on to Medberry by junior Kate Dumanian.
While Menlo outshot Crystal, 15-0, and controlled the ball much of the match scoring goals was a struggle. Menlo was led by senior defender Hannah Rubin, senior Rachel Pinsker, junior Amanda McFarland, and sophomore Lizzie Lacy.
In Palo Alto, Castilleja played the role of spoiler by deadlocking Sacred Heart Prep, 2-2. SHP slipped further in the WBAL race at 3-1-4 (7-2-5 overall). Taylor Ruegg and Brianna Carcione scored goals five minutes apart in the first half for SHP with Brigid White and Riley Shanahan providing assists.
In Portola Valley, host Priory (2-2-4, 3-4-6) also fell further behind in the WBAL race following a 2-2 deadlock with visiting King's Academy.
In the WBAL Skyline Division, host Pinewood posted a 6-0 victory over visiting Harker on Tuesday to improve to 7-0-1 in league (8-3-2 overall). Olivia Biggs had a hat trick for the Panthers with assists from Gretchen Olsen and Amrita Mecker. Olsen, Nicole Colonna and Gabby Amos-Grosser added solo tallies. Leah Hess assisted on Olsen's goal.
Pinewood remains tied for the division lead with Mercy-Burlingame. Those teams meet next Tuesday at Skyline College with the winner playing the Foothill Division's third-place team in a playoff for the league's final Central Coast Section berth.
In the PAL Bay Division, visiting Menlo-Atherton got goals from Brittany Scheuch and Marilena McCarty during a 2-2 deadlock with Burlingame. Elizabeth Cruz and Julia Stoner added assists for the Bears (4-3-1, 6-5-3), who tallied both goals in the second half to overcome a 1-0 deficit.
Menlo-Atherton remains in fourth place with 13 points, still trailing Woodside (7-0-1), Carlmont (6-1-1) and Burlingame (5-2-1).
Palo Alto tuned up for its run at a SCVAL El Camino Division title with a 1-0 nonleague win over host Gunn on Wednesday night.
Paly junior Megan Tall ended the scoreless battle with about 20 minutes gone in the second half, taking a pass from Sunny Lyu before shaking a Gunn defender and the Titans' goalie to score.
Palo Alto improved to 9-4-2 while Gunn dropped to 2-9-3.
Gunn had an opportunity to take the lead when Ming Ming Liu made a steal and passed it into the box, where Camille Shrager's shot was saved by Paly keeper Catherine Angell-Atchison. Paly's Katherine Maniscalco later ran down a Gunn player to break up a one on one.
The Vikings will put their 7-0-1 division mark on the line Friday at Fremont. Paly might be able to lock up the El Camino Division crown on Wednesday at home against Wilcox (3:30 p.m.).
Sacred Heart Prep opened up a five-point lead over second-place Menlo School following a 7-0 romp over visiting Pinewood in a West Bay Athletic League match on Wednesday.
Brendan Spillane tallied two goals and two assists, all in the first half, as the first-place Gators (8-0-1, 11-2-2) grabbed a comfortable 6-0 lead. Robert Hellman added one goal and two assists.
In San Jose, Menlo fell back in the race following a 0-0 deadlock with host Harker. The second-place Knights are now 6-1-2 in league for 20 points (9-3-3 overall). Only the top two teams in the WBAL automatically qualify for the CCS playoffs.
In nonleague action, Palo Alto kept its postseason hopes alive with a 2-0 victory over visiting Gunn. The Vikings (10-4-2) got a first-half goal from senior Kirby Gee, off a deflection of a Gunn player, and sophomore Preston Kuppe tallied an unassisted goal in the second half to hand the Titans (5-9-2) the loss.
Gunn keeper Mack Radin made several nice stops in the first half to prevent possible goals by Chris Meredith and Gen Murphy. Paly hit the post and crossbar before Gee's shot hit a Gunn player and caromed into the cage.
Paly had another deflection off the post that didn't go in during second-half action. Kuppe took a pass from Fernando Rodriguez and dribbled past two defenders before knocking a shot off Radin for the insurance goal.
Paly keeper Tony Maharaj had two nice saves, including a spectacular diving save off a header by Gunn's Guy Kaznik. Gee and fellow senior captain Alex Chin had arguably their best defensive games of the season as Gunn had just a few shots on frame.
Gunn junior Cadence Lee will go after a third straight title at the girls' CCS championships this weekend at Oak Grove High in San Jose.
Lee will be seeded No. 1 in her division for the two-day event, which begins Friday.
Gunn's Jessica Sun was fifth last year and could be seeded again. Teammate Grace Robinson, meanwhile, has the next best shot (after Lee) to place high.
Palo Alto will be represented by Alexa Austin.