By Rick Eymer
Palo Alto Online Sports
Senior MJ O'Neill thinks the Menlo-Atherton High girls' water polo team has gotten a lot better since losing to Castilleja at the St. Francis Alumni Invitational early in the season.
"Hopefully we won't make the same mistakes," she said. "We lost but it wasn't a crumbling loss. It's always great to show how we've improved as a team."
The Bears set up their league showdown with Castilleja next week by beating visiting Menlo School, 10-6, in a PAL Bay Division contest on Wednesday.
"It's nice to beat a rival school like Menlo," M-A senior Shelby Fero said. "They've won a lot of CCS titles."
Both schools are in a rebuilding mode. The Bears had to replace eight seniors who helped M-A (2-0, 7-4) reach the CCS title match, where they lost in overtime to St. Francis for the second consecutive year. M-A won the CCS title in 2007.
Menlo School (0-2, 3-9) has not gotten past the CCS quarterfinals since winning the last of three straight titles in 2006.
They are both making the best of their situations. McNeill and Fero, each of whom scored three times against the Knights, joined the NorCal club team so that they could play with their current teammates over the summer. They were both members at Stanford Water Polo Club (ironically led by Menlo-Atherton graduate John Tanner) previously.
While M-A goalie Emily Dorst (six saves against Menlo) played with the 18U team that finished fourth in the nation at last summer's Junior Olympics, the rest of the team played together on the 16U team that went 4-2-1 and finished 19th out of 92 teams.
The extra effort has been paying off for the Bears, coached by Chris Rubin, also an alumnus of the Stanford Water Polo Club team and an M-A graduate.
"This is a new team with new starters," O'Neill said. "We're filling new roles cohesively and everyone has stepped up."
M-A finally shook Menlo with a series of four goals in the third period that eventually led to a five-goal advantage.
Katherine Liang, Emily Gran, Danielle Flanagan and Marie Popp also scored for the Bears.
Menlo coach Sean Nolan also saw a lot of good things out of his team. The Palo Alto grad and Olympian has a roster comprised of two seniors, three juniors, five sophomores and four freshmen.
"This was our best game of the year," he said. "We were in the game and competitive with them. M-A and Castilleja are the top two teams and if we can finish strong it would be an accomplishment."
Senior Hailey Smith led the Knights with four goals and junior Ilana Crankshaw added two.
Sophomore Lindsay Montgomery and freshman Donya Sheikhrezai combined for five saves, while freshman Averi Westerman earned five ejections.
In another PAL Bay Division match Wednesday, Castilleja got seven goals from senior Natasha von Kaeppler in an 18-2 swamping of visiting Aragon. The Gators (2-0, 7-3) also got three goals from senior Barbara Peterson and two each from Megan Costello, Camille Zubizaretta and Sydney Molano.
Castilleja will visit three-time defending CCS Division II champ Sacred Heart Prep in a doubleheader on Friday at 6 p.m. In the earlier contest, Menlo will face defending CCS Division I champ St. Francis at 4:45 p.m.
Sacred Heart Prep (4-0, 12-1) tuned up with a solid 14-3 triumph over host Valley Christian (San Jose) on Wednesday. Pippa Temple led the Gators with three goals while Bridgette Harper, McKenzie O'Holleran and Erin Sheridan all scored twice. Senior goalie Catherine Donahoe had nine saves while backup Lauren Ferrando added three.
Castilleja (6-0) remained atop the West Bay Athletic League with a 231-252 victory over visiting Harker on Wednesday at Palo Alto Municipal. Senior Brenna Nelsen shot a 3-over-par 40 to earn medalist honors and lead the Gators. Sophomore Taylor Wilkerson added a 43 while Sarah Debs shot 44, Caroline Debs had a 48 and Gaelin Bernstein finished with a 56.
Second-place Sacred Heart Prep (5-1, 6-1) kept pace with a 209-266 triumph over Notre Dame-San Jose in light rain at San Jose Muni. Rachael Henry and Shelby Soltau fired 3-over 39s to lead the Gators while Kennedy Shields had a 42, Michaela Hutter a 42 and Emma Dake a 49.
In another WBAL match, Menlo School defeated Mercy-Burlingame, 258-310, at Moffett Field Golf Course. Gabby Girard led the Knights with a 46 while teammate Christina Schwab shot a 51 on the par-37 course.