By Keith Peters
Palo Alto Online Sports
Barring a major misstep by the Menlo-Atherton girls' water polo team, the PAL Bay Division title was decided on Wednesday when the Bears held off visiting Castilleja, 6-3, in a showdown between the league's top two teams.
The Bears (3-0, 9-4) still have two PAL matches remaining -- at Sequoia and Aragon -- but those should be routine affairs for the defending league champions. Thus, Castilleja (2-1, 7-5) will have to wait yet another season in an attempt to wrest the title away from M-A.
This appeared the best season to unseat Menlo-Atherton, which lost two-time Central Coast Section Division I Player of the Year Becca Dorst to graduation plus six other standout seniors that helped the Bears to a 27-2 mark and runnerup finish in the Division I title match in 2009.
While the Bears did return the section's top goalie in Emily Dorst plus dependable scorer M.J. O'Neill, this M-A team had only four seniors. Castilleja, on the other hand, came in with eight seniors and a coaching staff that featured 2008 U.S. Olympians Brenda Villa and Jessica Steffens.
Castilleja also proved that it had a very good shot at upending the Bears, based on the Gators' 4-2 victory over M-A at this season's St. Francis Autumn Invitational.
"The last time we played them, they absolutely shut us down," M-A coach Chris Rubin said of that surprising result last month.
Thus, the Bears could have been ripe for an upset on Wednesday. It didn't happen because Menlo-Atherton's defense was superb this time -- sparked by Dorst's 16 saves.
"Having Emily in the cage means we don't have to be one-dimensional on defense," Rubin said. "It's just a gift to have her there."
Dorst's performance in the first half was crucial, because she faced the setting sun and could have been blinded on any number of shots. Yet, she came up with save after save while the Bears grabbed a 4-1 lead on two goals by O'Neill and junior Emily Gran, whose second goal made it 4-1 and came after Castilleja hole defender Grace Arnold picked up her third ejection -- putting her on the bench the remainder of the match.
M-A senior Shelby Fero added a crucial goal with just 21 seconds left in the third quarter, thus taking any pressure off the Bears and putting it on the Gators. Castilleja did add fourth-quarter goals by senior Barbara Peterson (off a missed shot) and sophomore Sydney Molano from outside, sandwiched around a goal by M-A junior Brittany Krappe.
"We played great today," Rubin said. "The league championship was riding on this game and the kids really responded."
Marie Popp added three assists for M-A while Gran and O'Neill helped blank Castilleja high scorer Natasha von Kaeppler. The Gators' top three scorers were limited to just two goals, by Peterson and senior Sayeh Bozorghadad.
In another PAL Bay Division contest, Menlo School goalie Lindsay Montgomery came up with 12 saves and the Knights pulled away in the second half to register a 10-7 victory over visiting Sequoia. Menlo (1-2, 4-10) got three goals from Morgan Cundiff and two each from Hailey Smith and Ilana Crankshaw while outscoring the Cherokees, 7-4, in the second half.
In the SCVAL De Anza Division, host Gunn maintained its hold on second place with a solid 15-6 swamping of Monta Vista. Junior Elizabeth Anderson tallied five goals for the Titans (6-1, 12-1) while senior Shelby Newman added four. Freshman Caroline Anderson and junior Casey Lincoln each had two.
Gunn will host first-place Los Altos on Tuesday at 4:45 p.m., with the league's regular-season title at stake.
Castilleja remained unbeaten and moved to within one victory of wrapping up the West Bay Athletic League regular-season title following a 210-285 victory over Notre Dame-San Jose on Wednesday at Santa Teresa Golf Course in San Jose.
The Gators (7-0) were led by senior Brenna Nelsen, who fired a 2-under 34. Sarah Debs added a 40, as did Taylor Wilkinson. Caroline Debs and Stephanie Merenbach both shot 48. Castilleja can wrap up the league crown with a win over second-place Sacred Heart Prep on Monday at Sharon Heights Country Club.
Menlo School maintained its hold on first place in the WBAL Foothill Division with an easy 7-0 victory over visiting Castilleja on Wednesday. The Knights (6-0, 11-2) lost only seven games while sweeping the singles.
Menlo next will compete in the National Invitational this weekend at Dana Point in Southern California.
Boys' water polo
Sacred Heart Prep maintained its hold on second place in the West Catholic Athletic League with a big 10-7 triumph over host Bellarmine on Wednesday evening. Senior Philip Bamberg led the Gators (4-1, 9-5) with four goals while sophomore goalie Will Runkel had 12 saves.
In PAL Bay Division action, first-place Menlo swamped host Sequoia, 23-6, in a lopsided contest as 12 Knights scored. Jack Lucas (four goals) and John Gilhuly (three) led Menlo, which had three goalies combine for 12 saves.
Menlo will host De La Salle on Friday (6 p.m.) in a big nonleague match.
In another match, host Menlo-Atherton (2-1, 10-7) dunked visiting Carlmont, 24-3, as every Bear scored at least once.
Jake Bercow's four goals led the way in the match that saw Carlmont at a disadvantage all day with only 10 players suited up. The Scots got in foul trouble early and played most of the second half with no substitutes.
M-A coach Marco Palazzo played his second team much of the time, but the Bears still were much fresher than Carlmont and it showed. Senior Nick Henze had three steals and two assists to go with a solo goal. Emery Welton also posted two assists and Alex Gow made six saves in the cage.
The Bears will host Santa Margarita from Southern California on Saturday at 10 a.m.
In the SCVAL De Anza Division, sophomore Bret Pinsker scored three goals during a 17-6 loss to first-place Los Altos on Wednesday in the Vikings' pool. Paly fell to 5-3 in league (6-7 overall).
At Gunn, Ben Hendricks scored four goals but the Titans (1-7 in league) dropped a 7-6 division match to Monta Vista.