By Keith Peters
Palo Alto Online Sports
Emily Dorst and MJ O'Neill were wide-eyed freshmen in 2007 when the Menlo-Atherton girls' water polo team captured its first-ever Central Coast Section Division I title. Neither really knew what to expect as older teammates led the way to the championship.
Three years since that first title, Dorst and O'Neill returned to the same pool at Independence High in San Jose and provided the senior leadership as the Bears captured their second section crown with a 6-5 triumph over St. Francis on Saturday.
"This means a lot more," Dorst said while comparing the two section titles. "It didn't seem that big of a deal my freshman year. As a freshman I thought this happened every year, but no, you have to work to win the CCS championship. It's 10 times better this year. I'm loving it.''
The Bears came into the postseason as the top seed in Division I, but any number of teams could have claimed it as No. 2 Leland, No. 3 St. Francis and No. 4 Gunn all had solid seasons. In fact, M-A and St. Francis defeated Gunn and Leland, respectively, with identical 4-3 scores in the semifinals.
But if anyone had an edge, it was M-A. The Bears, after all, had lost to the Lancers in the previous two CCS finals – both in overtime. Thus, the revenge factor. M-A and St. Francis also split their two matches against each other, the last victory going to the Bears.
"It gave us some confidence coming into today," Rubin said. "This team just kept believing in themselves."
Rubin said he and his players talked about what they had seen against St. Francis this season and planned accordingly.
"Obviously," Rubin said, "I'm extremely happy."
Rubin wasn't smiling early, after the Lancers (18-9) grabbed a 2-0 lead in the first quarter. The Bears (18-9) battled back with O'Neill and junior Emily Gran scoring for a 2-2 match. From there, the score went back and forth – junior Brittany Krappe giving M-A a 3-2 lead before the Lancers tied it. O'Neill scored with 29 seconds before halftime for a 4-3 lead but the Lancers tallied nine seconds later for a 4-4 deadlock at halftime.
Kat Elward of St. Francis lobbed a shot over Dorst's reach for a 5-4 advantage in the third quarter, but O'Neill knotted it again with her third tally with 2:20 left in the third. Dorst prevented St. Francis from taking the lead again when she stopped a point-blank shot. With 6:41 left to play, M-A senior Shelby Fero found herself open on the perimeter and fired away, finding the back of the net for a 6-5 lead.
Dorst came up with her 15th block of the match with 53 seconds left .
"Scariest moment of the game," Dorst said of that final minute. "I was like, 'This cannot go into the goal. I need to block this now.' "
The Bears took control, but eventually lost the ball. St. Francis blew its final opportunity to tie, making a bad pass. That allowed the Bears to take control and run out the clock.
"I kept telling everyone, we're going to win this game," said Dorst, who'll play for Stanford next season while joining her sisters (Lindsay at Cal, Becca at UCLA) in the NCAA ranks. "We got off to a slow start, but it was a perfect ending."
Menlo-Atherton is now the first public school to win two CCS titles. Palo Alto (1999) and Lynbrook (1997) are the only other public schools to win crowns.