Castilleja is off to a great start in water polo

Gators beat St. Francis, M-A while finishing second in tourney

A lack of a championship certainly didn't dampen the spirits of the Castilleja water polo team at the annual 16-team St. Francis Autumn Invitational that wrapped up Saturday in Mountain View.

While first-year coach Brenda Villa watched her team lose in the finals, 11-3 to NorCal power Davis, Villa had to be pleased with how the Gators arrived in the championship match.

Castilleja (5-1), off to one of its best starts ever, upended host St. Francis in the second round on Friday, 5-4 in overtime, and then topped Menlo-Atherton, 4-2, in the semifinals on Saturday. St. Francis is the two-time Central Coast Section Division I champion while M-A finished second to the Lancers in 2008 and '09.

Castilleja reached the CCS Division II finals last season for the first time since 1997.

"It was a great weekend overall for the team," said Castilleja Athletic Director Jez McIntosh.

Castilleja survived a long Saturday afternoon schedule, which was delayed an hour when referees failed to show. Thus, the scheduled 5:50 p.m. title match didn't get started until nearly 7.

The Gators kept it close against Davis, trailing by only 4-1 at halftime, but the Blue Devils outscored Castilleja 7-3 in the second half to claim the crown. Senior Natasha von Kaeppler, who scored the winning goal against St. Francis, led the Gators with two goals against Davis. Senior goalie Sallie Walecka had 12 saves while filling in for the injured Evan Cranston.

Walecka had an outstanding weekend leading up to the title match. She had eight saves in the semifinal win over Menlo-Atherton, which didn't score until the fourth quarter. Senior Barbara Peterson led Castilleja with two goals.

Sacred Heart Prep, the three-time defending CCS Division II champion, finished 3-1 by toppling M-A, 5-1, in the third-place game Saturday. Catherine Donahoe had 15 goalie saves while Ally Flessel and Pipa Temple each tallied a pair of goals. The Bears finished 2-2.

SHP's only loss was an 11-3 decision to Davis in the semifinals. The Gators just couldn't get off quality shots against the tough Davis defense and fell behind 4-1 at the half and 8-2 after three quarters. Donahoe had eight saves in the match.

In other matches Saturday, at Sacred Heart Prep, Palo Alto (2-2) dropped a 9-6 decision to Leland in the ninth-place game and Menlo School (2-3) finished 13th following a 13-7 win over Burlingame behind six goals by freshman Averi Westerman. Menlo also beat Los Gatos in the third round, 6-3, thanks to three goals by Hailey Smith after dropping a 14-1 match to Davis to open the tournament and then an 8-5 setback to Mitty in the second round.

-- Keith Peters

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