Despite winning the past seven Central Coast Section Division II water polo titles, the Sacred Heart Prep girls had struggled in the annual season-opening St. Francis Autumn Invitational.
Heading into this year's event, the Gators hadn't won the tourney since 2007. Four straight victories, however, changed that this past weekend as SHP captured the title.
The Gators topped Clovis West for the crown, 8-6, after knocking off Davis in the semifinals on Saturday morning, 9-4, at St. Francis High in Mountain View.
"Nice victory for the girls," said SHP coach Jon Burke, now in his ninth season with the Gators. "It was a great tournament. Outstanding effort from all of the girls and a great way to see where we are at this point in the season."
Given SHP's success at CCS, it's always hard to gauge how the Gators's season will turn out based on the St. Francis results. Two years ago, SHP went 2-2. Last year, the Gators took second with a 3-1 mark. Both times, Sacred Heart Prep finished the year with a section title.
But, a 4-0 finish this past weekend is nonetheless a high-water mark -- given the length of time in between titles. The SHP 2007 team featured current U.S. National Team member KK Clark (UCLA), goalie Lindsay Dorst (Cal) and fellow senior Pallavi Menon (Stanford). That group went 28-1 and started the team's current streak of CCS titles.
The current standouts include sophomores Maddy Johnston, Layla Waters, Maddie Pendolino and junior Malaika Koshy. The combined to score 38 of the Gators' 42 goals.
Burke, however, liked the defensive effort that held opponents to 19 goals.
"Overall, I think our defense was excellent," he said. "We were very active and communicated well. We did a good job helping each other when we were beat and we made it difficult for our opponents to score on us.
"When you are focused on playing great defense, it takes some of the pressure off you offensively. That is how we approached the weekend and it worked well."
The Gators (6-0) got 10 goals from Waters, nine each from Koshy and Johnston and eight from Pendolino in a balanced effort. Koshy's defense allowed SHP to press aggressively.
"That was the key for us all weekend," Burke said. "And, we were able to generate some steals on critical possessions, both in the semifinals and finals. Overall, I thought she (Koshy) played great."
Castilleja went 3-1 in the tourney while Palo Alto and Menlo-Atherton finished 1-3.
At the Acalanes Invitational, Gunn went 3-1 and finished fifth. The Titans (3-3) topped Tamalpais, 9-4, before losing to Monte Vista (Danville), 14-1. Gunn bounced back with an 8-5 win over Rio Americano and a 6-5 overtime triumph over Acalanes.
In the fifth-place game, Gunn freshman Zoe Banks hit the game-tying shot at the buzzer to force OT and Bianca Batista won it with a backhand shot two minutes into the first extra period.
Batista led Gunn with nine goals in the four matches with fellow seniors Emily Fitzgerald adding six and Erica Watkins four.
The Sarah Robinson Era is over for the Gunn girls' cross-country team, but perhaps the Gillian Meeks Era is just beginning.
Meeks, who has run in Robinson's shadow the past two years, is now the undisputed leader of the team. She showed her leadership abilities on Saturday by winning the varsity race at the Chieftain Invitational at Palma High in Salinas.
Meeks, now a junior, clocked 18:06.10 over the three-mile course to help the Titans score 63 points and trail only St. Francis (50) in the team race.
Gunn sophomore Illi Gardner was eighth in 19:28.30, senior Emily Aiken was ninth in 19:35.70, freshman Emma Chiao was 28th in 21:24.30 and senior Michelle Zhang was 38th in 22:05.00.
Meeks moved to No. 3 all-time on the Gunn record board, with only Tori Tyler and Robinson ahead of her.
"Pretty good company to keep," said Gunn coach PattiSue Plumer, who noted that Gardner is now No. 11 all-time and Aiken is No. 12. "Particularly exciting given the time of the year."
Menlo School opened its season with a seventh-place team finish (girls) and a pair of top-10 individual place-winners.
Menlo senior Lizzie Lacy paved the way, taking third place in the varsity girls' race in a personal-record time of 18 minutes, 44 seconds. She beat her best time by over a minute.
The Knights' Robert Miranda took 14th overall in the boys' varsity in 16:47, and was the first freshman finisher. Menlo's Dennis Mandudzo was 46th in 17:53.40 in a field of 194 runners. The boys took 12th in team competition.
In the girls' race, Brooke Hammarskjold placed 50th in 23:01.60, Simran Arora 56th in 23:16.80; Grace Hammarskjold 73rd in 24.27.70 and Natasha Lasky 76th in 24:38.40.
Elsewhere, Hana Marsheck of Priory was 24th in the girls' race in 20:58.60.
Castilleja won the annual Catalina Invitational during the weekend in Monterey. The team format awarded points for finishes in single and doubles. All three doubles teams won their divisions while the No. 1 and 4 singles finished fifth and the No. 2 and 3 singles took third, giving the Gators enough points for the title.
Castilleja improved to 8-6 after fashioning a 4-2 mark at the Spike for a Cure Invitational in Santa Clara. The Gators defeated Branhamn (based on point differential), topped Santa Clara and Capuchino before losing to Monta Vista. Following a win over Cupertino, the Gators fell to Live Oak.
At the Deer Valley tournament in Antioch, Palo Alto went 4-2 with victories over Dougherty Valley, Freedom, Las Lomas and Cal High. The Vikings improved to 5-2 overall.