In what hardly can be termed a surprise, the Sacred Heart Prep and Menlo School boys' water polo teams will meet once again for the Central Coast Section Division II championship, set for Saturday at Independence High in San Jose.
This will be the seventh time the teams have met in the finals, with each squad winning three times. The Gators won the first meeting in 2003, their first-ever CCS title, before the Knights won from 2004-06. SHP topped Menlo in '08 and '09.
Overall, Menlo has won five CCS titles and Sacred Heart Prep has four. In the past 10 years, the teams have captured nine section crowns between them.
That legacy of dominance will continue Saturday when the No. 1-seeded Gators (19-9) and No. 2-seed Knights (17-9) meet for the third time this season. SHP defeated Menlo, 12-11 in sudden death, on Sept. 28 in the third round of the CCS-NCS Challenge. The teams met again for 11th place in the North-South Challenge on Oct. 23, with SHP pulling out a 10-8 overtime victory.
The teams are that evenly matched, despite their scores in the semifinals on Tuesday at Lynbrook High. Menlo romped past No. 3 Los Altos, 18-6, and Sacred Heart Prep squeezed by No. 4 Soquel, 12-11.
"I expected a close game," said SHP coach Brian Kreutzkamp. "They (Soquel) split with Menlo this year; they are good."
The Gators trailed by three midway through the third period, but SHP senior Philip Bamberg scored three of his eight goals in the fourth quarter, including the eventual game-winner. Sophomore goalie Will Runkel continued his excellent first season as a starter and had 16 saves.
Bamberg scored nine goals in the Gators' first win over Menlo, but was limited to just two in the second triumph.
Sacred Heart Prep will be shooting for its fourth-straight CCS title on Saturday. The record for consecutive crowns is nine by Bellarmine. No Division II team, however, has won more than three straight.
Menlo, meanwhile, earned its 14th trip to the CCS Division II finals in 15 years, more than any other CCS team in either division (boys and girls) with its dominating victory over Los Altos.
The Knights' defense earned the starring role as it blanked Los Altos scoring leader Colin Mulcahy, something few (if any) teams had done this season. Mulcahy was double- and triple-teamed, forcing other teammates to step up. Menlo senior John Holland-McCowan was the primary defensive stopper on Mulcahy, with Nick Hale contributing.
Hale had eight steals to go with four goals while Holland-McCowan added three goals along with his defensive performance. Goalkeeper Keegan Williams shut down most major threats with 11 saves.
Menlo coach Jack Bowen got plenty of offense, including a career-high five goals from both junior Jack Lucas and senior Kyle Bowman. Lucas added six assists. Menlo grabbed a 10-2 halftime lead and was never threatened.
Girls' water polo
Top-seeded Menlo-Atherton (16-9) will be playing for its fourth straight appearance in the CCS Division I finals when the Bears take on No. 4 Gunn (22-5) on Wednesday in a semifinal at M-A at 7 p.m.
In the CCS Division II semifinals at Lynbrook on Wednesday, top-seeded and three-time defending champion Sacred Heart Prep (24-3) will meet No. 4 St. Ignatius at 5:30 p.m., followed by No. 2 Los Altos (19-6) against No. 3 Castilleja (16-9) at 7 p.m.
The winners will meet Saturday in the section finals at Independence High in San Jose. Times will be determined following the semifinals.