The Sacred Heart Prep senior class had history on its mind heading into the Central Coast Section Division II boys water polo championship match on Saturday at Independence High in San Jose.
The Gators had a chance to become the first Division II team to win four straight section titles. The seniors also had a shot at becoming the first class in program history to win four straight. And, SHP wanted to make sure history didn't repeat itself.
Four years ago, Sacred Heart Prep also had a streak of three straight CCS titles, but was denied a fourth when Menlo pulled out an 11-5 victory at Independence High.
"That was our goal today, to not let that happen again," said SHP senior Michael Swart.
The Gators didn't as Swart scored four goals and sophomore goalie JC Marco had 10 saves in a 10-6 victory over rival Menlo School. Top-seeded SHP finished 25-4 while the No. 2 Knights ended their season a 23-7.
Had the Gators not lost to Menlo in 2010, they would be riding a streak of eight straight CCS titles, matching the SHP girls. That streak aside, Saturday's victory gave the SHP boys their eighth section title overall during 11 appearances in the finals since winning their first crown in 2003.
SHP head coach Brian Kreutzkamp said his team's goal was to make history on this day. The Gators did that, and more.
"They haven't lost to any CCS opponents in four seasons," Kreutzkamp said.
"Our goal every year is to go out with a win," said Swart. "But, to do that four straight years is crazy."
Especially considering all the talent the Gators have lost in recent years. SHP had only six seniors this season plus five freshmen and an untested goalie.
"You never know how a sophomore goalie will play," Kreutzkamp said of Marco, who was following in the footsteps of his older brother, Philippe, who had 13 saves in last year's title match. "That was the big question mark today, and he answered that early."
Marco came up with some solid saves early while Swart scored once and sophomore Jackson Enright twice to give SHP a 3-0 lead in the first quarter before Menlo senior Weston Avery made it 3-1.
Avery scored quickly to open the second quarter and teammate James Thygesen added one to offset goals by SHP junior Finn Banks and Swart as the Gators held a 5-3 halftime lead.
Menlo senior Andreas Katsis got his team to within one goal at 5-4 to open the third, but the Gators scored three unanswered goals (senior Nelson Perla-Ward, Swart and freshman Alex Tsotadze) for an 8-4 advantage.
When Swart scored on a counterattack that left him one on one with Menlo goalie Spencer Witte, it was 9-5 in the fourth. Katsis got his second goal and Menlo senior Nick Bisconti finally got on the board, but it was too little too late for the Knights. Perla-Ward put the finishing touches on the victory with 37 seconds to play.
The key, as it is in most championship games, was defense. Kreutzkamp had three different players attempt to blanket Bisconti, who was the only prep player in the nation to train with the U.S. Senior National Team over the summer. Swart, Perla-Ward and senior Grant Harvey all did a commendable job as Bisconti was held scoreless until the outcome was no longer in doubt.
The Gators had plenty of practice this season as it played yet another difficult schedule that included the nation's top teams. That prepared SHP well for defending its CCS title.
"It never gets easier," Kreutzkamp said. "Every year teams put a target on our backs and try to find ways of stopping us. We have to be ready every single game. But, they (his Gators) keep rising to the occasion."
Menlo was led by senior goalie Spencer Witte, who came up with 15 saves -- many from point-blank range.
"If the rest of us stepped up even half as much as Spencer did," said Bisconti, a fellow co-captain, "the game would have had a different result."
"Spencer showed, once again, that he's one of the top goalkeepers in Northern California," said Menlo coach Jack Bowen. "No doubt, I'm proud of him. But, I'm immensely proud of this whole group. The character of this team, and the heart that they've exhibited throughout the season and in today's game is unmatched. I've loved every minute of this season. Today, Sacred Heart also put together a great game and the game itself was tremendously well-played. That's what you want from a contest like this."
Gunn's first appearance in the section title match since 2004 came up short of success in a 11-7 loss to No. 2-seeded St. Francis on Saturday at Independence High.
The No. 4-seeded Titans (18-11) were within 5-2 at the half before the Lancers (18-10) pulled away to win their first section title since 2010. Gunn was hoping to win its first CCS crown since 1995.
The Titans fell behind 3-0 after one period and trailed by 9-5 after three periods. Senior Ari Wayne closed his career with four goals with Quinn Hamilton adding two and Christian Znidarsic one.
The loss, however, didn't ruin the return to the CCS finals for Gunn coach Matt Johnson, who played goalie for the Titans in the '04 title match.
"My return to CCS finals was a lot of fun," Johnson said. "I'm so proud of this group to be able to accomplish that goal. We definitely talked about how special and unique this opportunity is and I told the guys to live in the moment and enjoy it.
"I thought we battled and left it all in the pool. It obviously wasn't the start we wanted, but these guys never quit. It was a great experience for us and our program and we will continue to grow and get better. We lost some very good players, but we have guys ready to fill those spots and we return a very strong trio in Hilde-Jones, Hamilton, and Znidarsic."