By Keith Peters
Palo Alto Online Sports
The paths they took were decidedly different, but the results were the same for the Sacred Heart Prep boys' and girls' water polo teams as they swam off with Central Coast Section championships on Saturday at the George F. Haines International Swim Center in Santa Clara.
The top-seeded SHP boys (25-4) pulled away by halftime and coasted to a 19-7 victory over No. 3-seeded Los Altos (18-12) in the Division II finals. The goal total for SHP is the highest in section history, boys or girls, while eclipsing the 17 scored by the Santa Clara boys in 1981.
More important, the Gators won their second straight CCS title, the fifth in six years and their sixth overall in their 10th appearance in the section finals.
The top-seeded SHP girls (21-8) didn't pull away until the fourth quarter before finally defeating stubborn No. 2 seed St. Ignatius, 7-5 in another Division II finale. The title is the Gators' sixth straight, the most consecutive championships ever won in the girls' division.
St. Francis won the Division I girls' title, 8-3 over Leland, to win its seventh CCS title -- the most by any girls' team.
SHP's latest senior class of P.J. Bigley, Kate Bocci and Bridgette Harper followed the previous five in similar championship fashion. The trio definitely didn't want to be the first class to end the streak.
"If was definitely in the back of our minds," Bigley said of the streak. "Coach (Jon) Burke talked about making history . . . It was a great accomplishment. We're all excited."
Bigley provided the winning goal with 3:59 left in the fourth quarter and later had another waived off by an offensive foul. Bocci made up for that with a late goal while the Gators were running out the final 29 seconds of the match.
Then it was time to celebrate as Burke got pulled into the pool by junior goalie Kelly Moran, with the rest of the team following.
"It was an opportunity to make history and put a successful end to a great season," said Burke, who graduated five seniors last season and had to nearly start over in terms of experience. Yet, everything came together at the right time once again for the Gators.
The championship matchup may have looked like just another West Catholic Athletic League match, since SHP had beaten SI to open the league season. The Gators got off to a 5-2 start after junior Morgan McCracken made a nice spin move and scored her second goal after junior Caitlin Stuewe scored all three of her goals in the first half.
But, as Burke noted, "Championship water polo is completely different. Anything can happen."
Sacred Heart Prep missed on seven 6-on-5 situations and at times had trouble just getting shots off. The Gators, in fact, were out-shot in the first half, 11-7.
"Our nerves showed," Burke said. "And, they (SI) played great 5-on-6 defense. That really wore us down, our inability to score on 6-on-5s. But, our girls, they found a way to get it done . . . it's a great way to end it."
While the girls' match was close, the SHP boys made sure that didn't happen in their finale against Los Altos. Gators' coach Brian Kreutzkamp subbed four players in midway through the first quarter to keep his starters fresh.
After holding only a 3-1 lead after one period, the SHP starters were back for the start of the second quarter. Eight goals later, SHP held an 11-3 halftime lead and the match effectively was over.
"The game plan was to wear them down with our depth," said Kreutzkamp, "and turn it into a swim meet."
SHP outscored Los Altos 8-2 in the deciding second period, with senior Zach Churukian scored all three of his goals in the quarter and junior Harrison scoring two of his three.
The second quarter also offered up one of the more bizarre scenes after SHP's Nelson Perla-Ward lobbed in a goal over the head of Los Altos goalie Cameron Putnam, who vehemently protested contact on the play and was ejected. That gave SHP a five-meter penalty shot, which Churukian made for an 8-2 lead.
The Gators continued to use an effective counter attack in the second half, allowing Kreutzkamp to have all his starters on the bench to start the final quarter.
Ten players scored for Sacred Heart Prep, including six of seven seniors -- Bret Hinrichs, Alex Swart, Scott Jollymour, Zoltan Lazar, Michael Holloway and Churukian. The only senior not to score was goalie Will Runkel. His contribution showed up in 10 saves and giving up just six of the Eagles' seven goals.
While his 2007 team won the section crown with a 26-3 record, Kreutzkamp said 2012 also held a special place in program history.
"It's the best season we've ever had," Kreutzkamp said. "We played the best teams in the United States just to prepare for this week."
The Gators played probably the toughest schedule in program history this season, winning the NCS vs. CCS Challenge and holding their own against the nation's best in the North-South Challenge. SHP won the WCAL regular-season and playoff titles and didn't lose to any NorCal team -- making the CCS tournament all the more easier.
"They're certainly going to remember this the rest of their lives," Kreutzkamp said of his seniors. "They came out and made it memorable."
The Gators outscored three CCS opponents by a combined 52-11.
In the boys' CCS Division I finale, No. 3-seeded Menlo-Atherton (14-13) gave No. 1 Bellarmine (18-11) all it could handle before finally dropping a 9-8 decision. The Bears were shooting for their second section title in their fourth-ever appearance.
Morgan Olson-Fabbro scored five goals and Zach Deal added two for the Bears, who were deadlocked at halftime, 6-6, but then were outscored in the third period, 2-0.
The match marked the end of M-A coach Dante Dettamanti's coaching career, at least with the Bears. The veteran is stepping aside and his assistant, former Paly head coach Giovanni Napolitano, is taking over.