Gunn girls and Palo Alto boys qualify for CCS playoffs with at-large berths


By Keith Peters

Palo Alto Online Sports

The second season of high school soccer is all set and, barring torrential rain, will get under way Wednesday with the opening rounds of the Central Coast Section playoffs.

The Gunn girls will be one of six local teams playing first-round matches and one of eight overall in the playoffs. The Sacred Heart Prep girls and Menlo-Atherton boys both were seeded No. 3 and have byes into the quarterfinals on Saturday, Feb. 26.

Gunn, which won its final three matches, got into the postseason with an at-large berth by a mere 1.5 points. The Titans will be making their first appearance since 2009 and their first from the De Anza Division since 2003.

Eighth-seeded Gunn (9-6-5) will host No. 9 Carlmont (7-6-7) in a Division I opener Wednesday at 6 p.m.

"It will be a good battle," said Gunn coach Damian Cohen. "Carlmont takes a great deal of pride in their program. I am a Carlmont alum and coached there for a number of years. I also taught there and worked with their coach Tina Doss. In fact, I helped coached Carlmont three seasons ago when I stepped away from Priory -- so I am very familiar with many of their players.

"They are aggressive, have some speed, and know how to keep the game close. We played them earlier in the season (a Gunn victory), but teams take on new lives when CCS begins."

Should Gunn advance past the opening round, the Titans will have to face No. 1 seed St. Francis (14-3-3) in the quarterfinals.

In the girls' Division III bracket, Priory (11-3-4) received the No. 5 seed while Menlo (6-4-9) got the No. 9 seed. Both will open Wednesday. Priory will have to travel to Hollister to face No. 12 Anzar (13-5-1), a league champion, at 2:30 p.m. Menlo will visit No. 8 Valley Christian (9-5-5), also at 2:30 p.m.

"A tough road game," said Menlo coach Donoson FitzGerald. "If we do win, it will be well-earned."

A Menlo win will earn the Knights a date with No. 1 Scotts Valley (13-2-4) in the quarterfinals while Priory would advance to face No. 4 Santa Catalina (13-4-1).

The Sacred Heart Prep girls (13-4-3) will open next Saturday against either No. 8 Harbor (12-5-1) or No. 11 Pacific Grove (13-3-2). A victory by the Gators probably would earn them a date with No. 2 Live Oak (12-3-5) in the semifinals. Sacred Heart Prep reached the semis last season before losing. Defending champion Santa Cruz, by the way, is not in the field.

In the boys' tournament, Palo Alto (8-3-8) received an at-large berth in Division I after finishing fourth in the SCVAL De Anza Division. The No. 6-seeded Vikings will visit El Camino Division champ and No. 11 seed Milpitas (12-6-2) on Wednesday at 6 p.m.

"We are on the top half, away from Bellarmine and Watsonville," said Paly coach Don Briggs. "That's good. On the other hand, we are in a bracket with Milpitas, M-A and Mountain View. We lost only three games and two of those were to M-A and Mountain View. So, things don't look easy on our half, as least from our perspective. We defeated Milpitas this year, but that was back in December, so I expect them to be better on Wednesday.

"I think we will be competitive with whomever we play," Briggs continued. "If we score, we should do well. If it goes down to PK's, anything can happen."

A victory by Paly will mean a quarterfinal date with Menlo-Atherton (13-3-2), which finished tied with Burlingame for the PAL Bay Division championship this season. Junior Edgardo Molina has scored 19 goals in 18 matches for the Bears this sason.

A possible semifinal opponent for either team would be No. 2 Mountain View (15-1-3), the No. 2 seed and De Anza Division champ. Palo Alto and Menlo-Atherton both lost their CCS Division I openers last season.

Palo Alto will go into its opener without standout junior defender Gerrit van Zyll. He received a red card in the Vikings' final match against Mountain View and has to sit the first CCS match.

"He's out," Briggs confirmed. "Too bad, since he, along with Mountain View's sweeper, afe the best, most-talented sweepers I have seen this year. He has played every minute since December, so will will have to quickly adjust to a new center back -- probably Austin Smith or Mark Raftrey will have to move into the middle."

In boys' Division III action, Sacred Heart Prep (17-1-1) received the No. 7 seed while Priory (12-6-1) got the No. 9 seed in its first-ever appearance in the playoffs. Priory originally was seeded No. 12, but the seedings were changed after a first- and second-place team from the same league were in the same half of the bracket and that is prohibited by CCS by-laws.

Sacred Heart Prep was originally set to play No. 11 Soledad, but now will host No. 10 Soquel (9-7-1) on Wednesday at 2:30 p.m.

"We were just one win away from earning a first-round bye," said SHP coach Armando del Rio. "So, instead we fell to a No. 7 seed. It seems low, with having such a strong record. However, it is playoff time and every team will be difficult in the boys' tournament regardless of seeding. There is no easy match.

"We know that Soquel is a strong team, and we know that we are as well. We are playing at home, and are eager to play well, attack, and work hard as a team regardless of the weather conditions or stakes. I look forward to a quality display of soccer from both teams."

This will be SHP's third straight appearance since moving to the West Bay Athletic League after years of competing during the fall. The Gators, however, have yet to advance past the first round.

Priory will make its debut on the road against No. 8 Gonzales (9-7-1) on Wednesday at 6 p.m. A victory will earn the Panthers a date with No. 1 Santa Cruz (13-5-1) on Saturday in the quarterfinals.

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