By Keith Peters
Palo Alto Online Sports
Winning four straight Central Coast Section girls' water polo titles is not easy. Since the sport began in 1996, only one team had accomplished that feat – St. Francis. Now, there are two.
Sacred Heart Prep pulled off the rare quad of section titles with a dominating 12-4 triumph over Castilleja on Saturday at Independence High in San Jose.
Top-seeded SHP (26-3) started the season ranked No. 1 in the section and finished that way. The Gators also didn't lose to any CCS competitor this season.
"We're just really happy right now with this returning group," said a drenched SHP coach Jon Burke, who enjoyed yet another ritual dunking that never seems to get old. "Maintaining consistency over the course of three months and then the seniors getting a fourth championship . . . So, I'm excited about that."
While Burke now has four CCS titles on his resume, this one might be the most enjoyable.
"This was so special," he said. "It's a blue-collared group with no stars. We never got ahead of ourselves. Every game was important. We never looked down the road."
The Gators did lose a lot of talent off last season's team and returned only four seniors – Catherine Donahoe, Sarah Westcott, Emily Parsons and Ally Flessel. SHP did start the season as the No. 1 team, pretty much based on its CCS title. The Gators didn't have a lot of firepower to start, but the team grew as the season did and defense made a big difference.
"Defense has been the cornerstone of our team all season," Burke said. "We always stress the importance of playing good team defense and have spent a lot of time working on the various components. The team learns quickly and we have tried out a number of different things. This season, we have had some great individual performances by our defenders and goalie and they continue to help set the tone of the game for us."
Sacred Heart beat St. Francis three times during the year along with two wins over Menlo-Atherton and Castilleja. The second win over Castilleja was by just a 6-4 count, which had Burke a little concerned.
"We struggled against them in October," Burke said. So he implemented a new frontcourt offense that featured setting picks to open up room for the shooters. The players learned the new system in three weeks, during which they didn't lose once.
After winning comfortably in the CCS semifinal on Wednesday, Burke knew his team was right where it needed to be.
"We played well on Wednesday night, so a lot was not changing much," he explained.
Sacred Heart grabbed a quick 3-0 leads on goals by junior Pippa Temple, Erin Sheridan and Westcott. Sheridan scored twice more in the second quarter with Temple adding another tally while Parsons scored. Junior Clare Rudolph scored the first of her three goals in the third to give the Gators a 8-0 lead before Castilleja senior Natasha von Kaeppler scored the first of her two goals. It was too little too late for Castilleja (17-10) at that point.
Donahoe finished with 19 blocks and Temple had four goals. In fact, the SHP juniors tallied a combined 10 goals. Something for opponents to think about for the 2011 season.
"The team understands the importance of having good practices and being prepared for each game," Burke said. "Their attention to this is one of the main reasons why we have had a successful season. The team puts forth a great effort each and every day."