It won't be a heavily tested Sacred Heart Prep boys' water polo team attempting to defend its title at the CCS-NCS Challenge this weekend. The Gators will have only two matches in the books when they open the 32-team tournament on Friday in the East Bay.
Sacred Heart Prep, which opened its season last week with a victory over Acalanes, will host Serra on Thursday (7 p.m.) in a final tuneup before this weekend's tournament that matches many of the top teams from the Central Coast and North Coast sections.
While the tourney is missing defending NCS champ Miramonte and defending CCS Division I champ Bellarmine, the field still is loaded with talented teams. Sacred Heart Prep is the three-time defending CCS Division II champ, St. Francis (Mountain View) is the 2009 CCS Division I runnerup and Acalanes is the '09 NCS runnerup.
The tournament will be held at four sites in the Bay Area -- St. Francis, Los Gatos, Los Altos and Campolindo in Moraga.
Sacred Heart Prep and Menlo School (4-1) both will have to travel to Campolindo and could wind up playing each other in the semifinals on Saturday. Their bracket, however, is loaded for the first two matches on Friday. Menlo takes on Campolindo at noon while Sacred Heart Prep faces Monte Vista (Danville) at 2 p.m. Also playing at Campo is Acalanes and De La Salle.
Should Menlo and SHP win twice on Friday, they would meet on Saturday in a semifinal at St. Francis High at 11 a.m., assuring one of the teams reaching the championship match at 3 p.m.
Menlo-Atherton (6-3) will open on Friday against San Ramon Valley at St. Francis at 2 p.m. A first-round win will match the Bears against the host Lancers at 5 p.m.
Gunn will be competing again in the B bracket of the tournament. The Titans will open Friday against Marin Catholic in Campolindo's second pool at 1 p.m. Gunn reached the B finals last season before losing.
Should Menlo have the success it did in its own Scott Roche Invitational last weekend, the Knights could find themselves in the finals against St. Francis for the second straight week.
Those teams battled in the Roche finals, with St. Francis pulling out a 9-6 victory. It was the Lancers' third title in the tourney's 13-year history. Menlo is the only team to have won more (four) times.
Menlo had its moments, but early mistakes proved costly against the talented and No. 1-seeded Lancers. John Holland-McCowan and Jack Finch each scored twice for the No. 6-seeded Knights while Keegan Williams had nine saves.
Menlo opened with an 11-4 win over Bonita (Ventura) as Finch scored four goals and followed that with a 9-7 victory over Vista (San Diego) as Holland-McCowan scored four times and Williams had 10 saves. In the semifinals, Menlo blasted Los Altos, 14-4, as Holland-McCowan and Nick Hale each tallied four times. Hale also had six steals and five assists while Finch and Jake Lucas added four assists each and Kyle Bowman tossed in three goals.
For the weekend, Finch had nine goals, six assists, 12 steals and five ejections earned. Hale added seven goals, seven assists and 17 steals while Holland-Cowan scored 12 goals and Williams had 26 saves in goal.
Menlo coach Jack Bowen liked his team's counter attack, among other positives during the weekend.
"We've worked more this season on that aspect of our game than ever before and it shows," Bowen said. "I also loved the team approach to defense, as they showed that they were constantly aware and looking to help another teammate when possible.
"The scoring was balanced as we got at least seven goals this weekend from four players (Hale, Finch, Holland-McCowan and Bowman), and they played very well against varying offenses including Vista, which started three lefties -- thus essentially running their offense from the opposite side of the pool."
Menlo also did a good defensive job on Colin Mulcahy of Los Altos, last season's CCS Division I Player of the Year. Mulcahy managed just two goals in his team's semifinal loss to the Knights.
Menlo-Atherton went 3-1 in the tournament and finished ninth with a 12-5 victory over Bonita. Nine different players found the back of the net with junior Max Wilder leading the way with three goals in the first period. Senior co-captain Graham McClelland led a stellar defensive effort with four steals to go with one goal. His younger brother, freshman Evan McClelland scored twice.
Junior standout goalie Alex Gow stifled the Bonita offense with eight saves. He had 33 in the four matches, including 12 against Palo Alto as Wilder and Hunter Carmichael each scored twice. M-A also beat Drake in the third round, 11-5, as Nick Henze tallied three times. The Bears' only loss was a 7-4 setback to Rio Americano in the opening round.
Menlo-Atherton first-year coach Marco Palazzo was pleased with his team's progress over the course of the tournament.
"They are finally starting to talk to each other in the pool," he said.
Palo Alto (2-4) went 1-3 in the tourney, beating El Dorado (11-7) after losing to defending champ Cathedral Catholic of Orange County, 13-2, and Menlo-Atherton, 6-2, in the second round. The Vikings lost to Valley Christian in the final round, 10-4.