well to change
and wins big
The Menlo School boys' water polo team has reached the halfway point in its season, and coach Jack Bowen is very pleased with what he has seen thus far.
The Knights have finished among the top four in the two tournaments they've played in and, on Wednesday, virtually clinched the PAL Bay Division regular-season title with a 10-2 victory over rival Menlo-Atherton.
"Today marked the halfway point of our season," Bowen said after swamping the Bears. "It has been very successful, on many levels."
Menlo is 8-3 (2-0 in the PAL) and has successfully blended its returning players with a handful of newcomers. That fact was starkly evident in the victory over Menlo-Atherton, which saw the Knights change plans in midstream.
Trailing 2-1 after one quarter, Bowen scrapped his game plan and went to Plan B.
"We made massive changes in the second quarter," he explained. "We changed our 6 on 5, our team defense and our counter attack. We came in with one game plan, but played three-fourths of the game with another."
Bowen said his initial game plan simply wasn't working against M-A, the defending Central Coast Section Division I champion.
"Their personnel were doing something that I hadn't planned on," Bowen said. "We had to change."
As it turned out, change was good for Menlo. The Knights moved their double teams on defense to another position in the pool and came up with numerous steals. That led to quick counter attacks and goals. Menlo senior Gerrard Clark scored two goals within a minute, senior Mark Hudnall scored on a counter and senior James Balassone fired one home just before halftime as the Knights took a 5-2 lead into the break.
The Menlo scoring onslaught continued in the third quarter as Hudnall scored on another counter attack and Balassone found the net again for a 7-2 lead. Clark, senior Will Tashman and Balassone all scored within two minutes of each other in the final period to finish off the Bears.
"This team continues to have a lot of heart, and the ability to adapt," Bowen said.
While Menlo is all about the team, Balassone was an individual standout. He switched off playing two-meter defense on the Bears' 6-foot-9 junior Jed Springer, worked the double team on defense to perfection, and got out on the counter attack and scored three goals and adding four steals.
"Pretty outstanding," Bowen said of Balassone's effort.
Senior goalie Scott Platshon benefited from his teammates' defense while stopping 12 shots. Clark scored three times and Hudnall added two goals. Newcomers Ryan Martin, Jack Foley and John Holland-McCowan also contributed as did returnee David Andreason.
Menlo was coming off a second-place finish in its own Scott Roche Invitational, where its only loss in four matches was a 14-7 blowout to SoCal power Mater Dei. While the Knights could have come into the M-A showdown a bit flat, it was just the opposite.
"They were blatantly upset after losing, which all good athletes should be," Bowen explained. "We weren't too high for this (M-A) game. There's still a lot of the season to be played."
There are, however, only three PAL matches left. That puts Menlo in position to win yet another regular-season crown and go into the league tournament with the No. 1 seed. As always, everything is building for the CCS playoffs, where getting the No. 1 seed is always the goal.
Menlo-Atherton (1-1, 6-5) doesn't have much time to lick its wounds from Wednesday. The Bears are back in the pool Friday against Soquel (5:30 p.m.) in the opening round of the St. Francis Varsity Water Polo Tournament. Palo Alto (6-5) takes on Mountain View at 3:10 p.m. in another first-round match, while Gunn (0-4) faces Live Oak (7 p.m.) at Los Altos High.
The championship game is on Saturday at St. Francis at 4:10 p.m.
Menlo-Atherton, the defending CCS Division I champion, flexed its muscles and remained tied for first place in the PAL Bay Division with a 17-4 swamping of host Menlo on Wednesday.
The Bears (2-0, 5-1) got six goals from junior Rebecca Dorst and four from junior Vanessa Lane. M-A led at halftime, 9-0, and cruised from there. Daisy Anderson and Hailey Smith each scored twice for Menlo (1-1, 2-8).
Both teams will be competing this weekend in the NorCal Championships, Friday and Saturday at Sacred Heart Prep and Menlo College.
Menlo-Atherton takes on Granite Bay in its opener and, with a victory, likely will face defending CCS Division II champion Sacred Heart Prep (3-1) in the Gators' pool at 3:50 p.m.
Castilleja plays Campolindo at 1 p.m. at Menlo and could face the Clovis West-Los Altos winner at 6:20 p.m.
Saturday's championship game is set for 5:10 p.m. at Sacred Heart Prep.
Castilleja (2-0, 8-1) got three goals apiece from Jane Larkins and Kat Booher in a 13-0 romp over host Half Moon Bay in a PAL Bay Division match Wednesday.