By Keith Peters
Palo Alto Online Sports
Should the Menlo School and Sacred Heart Prep boys' water polo teams advance to the finals of the Central Coast Section Division II playoffs again this season, expect the finale to be close. Moreover, don't be surprised if it goes into overtime.
The Knights and Gators have played twice this season, both times going to overtime. Sacred Heart needed sudden death to win the first meeting, at the CCS-NCS Challenge last month, and played two overtime periods on Saturday before holding off Menlo, 10-8, for 11th place at the fifth annual North-South Challenge at Palo Alto High.
SHP coach Brian Kreutzkamp acknowledged that the latest win as just another preview for CCS.
"Absolutely," he said. "If all things fall as they may."
Barring any upsets or surprises, like St. Francis competing in Division II instead of Division I or Soquel becoming a giant-killer, both Menlo and Sacred Heart Prep should meet in the finals once again. Last season, the Gators romped to a 15-7 victory in the title match. Both teams, however, lost a lot of talent to graduation and have been building around a handful of returnees this season. Both squads are 12-7 following the two-day event that brought together some of the top 16 teams in the state – eight from Northern California and eight from the south.
Sacred Heart Prep finished 2-2 while Menlo went 1-3. Last season, the Gators finished fifth while the Knights took 10th. Neither team is as strong, which has made for the two overtime matchups this season. They are that close.
"Finishing 11th is a little disappointing," Kreutzkamp said. "But, we were facing some of the top teams in the state."
Sacred Heart lost its opener on Friday (13-7) to The Bishop's School of La Jolla, ranked No. 1 in San Diego. On Saturday morning, the Gators dropped a 9-6 decision to Acalanes, the No. 1 team from the North Coast Section. SHP beat Villa Park, 14-7, the No. 10 team from Orange County before edging Menlo.
The Knights were swamped by Murrieta Valley (18-5), which finished sixth. Menlo then dunked Palo Alto (16-8) before falling to Los Alamitos (8-7).
Mater Dei, the No. 1 team from Orange County, won the tournament with an 11-10 victory over two-time champ El Toro. Los Alamitos, which won the prestigious S&R Tournament in Southern California a few weeks ago, finished ninth this weekend following a 9-5 win over Acalanes.
Los Altos finished 14th following a 19-17 loss to Villa Park and Palo Alto went 0-4 and finished 16th after a 16-8 setback to Davis.
Sacred Heart Prep went 2-2, which Kreutzkamp said: "I feel where we're at this weekend."
Sacred Heart jumped out to a 4-2 lead after one quarter by getting goals from four different players – Max McKelvy, Neil Buncke, Robert Dunlevie and Zach Churukian. Wade Avery kept Menlo close with a pair of goals.
With the Gators concentrating on limiting Menlo's John Holland-McCowan inside -- he wound up going scoreless -- the Knights found the range from outside in the second period and tallied four goals to tie it at 6 as Jack Lucas scored twice.
The Knights, however, failed to convert during a 6-on-4 situation late in the second period and SHP sophomore goalie Will Runkel blocked two point-blank shots just before the half.
Bamberg gave SHP a 7-6 lead in the third quarter, Dunlevie made it 8-6 in the fourth, but Menlo's Jack Finch scored for an 8-7 game before Holland-McCowan missed a five-meter penalty shot. Finch then tied the match at 8 with 1:52 left to play, sending it to overtime after both teams missed on last-second opportunities. Bamberg had the last two shots for SHP, having the first one blocked before he gathered in the rebound for one final attempt that just missed.
SHP freshman Harrison Enright scored from his two-meter position in the first overtime, and tallied again from the same spot in the second three-minute extra period as he received one-on-one coverage both times.
"He's going to get a lot of one-on-ones when we put Rob (Dunlevie) and Phil (Bamberg) on top," Kreutzkamp explained. "We were just mixing it up."
Both teams head back into league play this week for one final match each before competing in the annual Memorial Invitational next weekend at Lynbrook and Bellarmine. It's possible the Gators and Knights could meet once again.
If so, expect it to be close.
At Sacred Heart Prep
Game 1 -- Mater Dei 16, Davis 2
Game 3 -- Dos Pueblos 14, Acalanes 8
Game 5 -- Bishop's School 13, Sacred Heart Prep 7
Game 7 -- St. Francis 10, Villa Park 7
Game 9 -- Acalanes 11, Davis 9 (OT)
Game 11 -- Mater Dei 15, Dos Pueblos 6
Game 13 -- Sacred Heart Prep 14, Villa Park 7
Game 15 -- Bishop's School 10, St. Francis 7
At Palo Alto High
Game 2 -- Miramonte 11, Los Alamitos 9
Game 4 -- El Toro 15, Los Altos 5
Game 6 -- Murietta Valley 18, Menlo School 5
Game 8 -- Loyola 22, Palo Alto 6
Game 10 -- Los Alamitos 12, Los Altos 10
Game 12 -- El Toro 15, Miramonte 9
Game 14 -- Menlo 16, Palo Alto 8
Game 16 -- Loyola 9, Murrieta Valley 7
At Sacred Heart Prep
Game 17 -- Dos Pueblos 7, St. Francis 6
Game 19 -- Murrieta Valley 12, Miramonte 10
Game 21 -- Mater Dei 12, Bishops School 6 (semifinals)
Game 23 -- El Toro 10, Loyola 9 (semifinals)
Game 25 -- Miramonte 10, St. Francis 4 (7th place)
Game 27 -- Dos Pueblos12, Murrieta Valley 11 (5th place)
Game 29 -- Loyola 8, Bishop's 5 (3rd place)
Game 31 -- Mater Dei 11, El Toro 10 (championship)
At Palo Alto High
Game 18 -- Los Altos 19, Palo Alto 13
Game 20 -- Villa Park 12, Davis 12
Game 22 -- Los Alamitos 8, Menlo School 7
Game 24 -- Acalanes 9, Sacred Heart Prep 6
Game 26 -- Davis 16, Palo Alto 8 (15th place)
Game 28 -- Villa Park 19, Los Altos 17 (13th place)
Game 30 -- Sacred Heart Prep 10, Menlo 8 OT (11th place)
Game 32 -- Los Alamitos 9, Acalanes 5 (9th place)
2010 -- Mater Dei
2009 -- El Toro
2008 -- Villa Park
2007 -- Miramonte
2006 -- El Toro
Girls' water polo
Three-time defending CCS champ Sacred Heart Prep (18-1) won its 16th straight match, a hard-fought 5-3 nonleague triumph over host Menlo-Atherton on Saturday morning.
"We were a little concerned about this one," SHP coach Jon Burke said. "M-A has gotten a lot better and we made only five of 25 of our shots. That's not very good."
The Bears (12-7) started out in a 2-0 hole, with SHP scoring on counterattack goals from Clare Rudolph and Emily Parsons (who finished with three goals). The rest of the game the teams were evenly matched in a defensive struggle. Both goalies – M-A's Emily Dorst and SHP's Catherine Donahoe -- acquitted themselves well, as they turned away shot after shot. Dorst finished with 14 saves while Donahoe had 17.
Menlo-Atherton's final PAL Bay Division league game is against host Aragon at 2 p.m. A victory will wrap up an undefeated regular season for the Bears.
Sacred Heart Prep can put the finishing touches on a 6-0 league title in the West Catholic Athletic League by beating host Mitty on Thursday.
Both SHP and M-A then will compete in the annual NorCal Championships, which will be held at the M-A and Sacred Heart Prep pools for the first time ever. Action begins Friday.