For eight straight years, the Sacred Heart Prep girls have won their final water polo match of the season. That has translated into a remarkable streak of eight consecutive Central Coast Section Division II championships.
Winning that final match isn't talked about that much among team members, but SHP coach Jon Burke acknowledged: "I think it's on their minds. No one wants to be the class who lost that last game of the season."
Thus, the Gators forge ahead year after year while trying to keep things in perspective.
"We're aware of it being a historic run," Burke said.
The run continued Saturday as top-seeded Sacred Heart Prep (23-6) handed No. 2 Soquel (24-4) a 15-4 dunking in the CCS Division II finals at Independence High in San Jose.
"We have had the talent each year to do it," Burke said of the streak, "and, we've done it. That's what is most remarkable; that's what's most special about the streak -- getting it done."
Year after year, the Gators are expected to win and they do just that. It's not as easy as most would think. Graduation can play a big role in that.
"This was a really remarkable year," said Burke, who may have had one of his least-experienced senior classes since the streak began.
Senior goalie Emily Riley, for example, was on the JV team last season. Yet, she stepped up in her first and only year as a starter. On Saturday, she had 10 saves while sparking a superior defensive effort.
"This is probably the first class in five years where none of the seniors were a part of a CCS championship their freshman year," said Burke.
Most of the seniors don't play water polo year round, unlike previous classes. Yet, players like Meg Avery, Aubrey Gavello and Megan Anderson all helped make an impact this season.
A crucial juncture in the seniors' development came in late September when some key underclassmen were injured during the California Capital Challenge. The Gators went 1-3 in the tournament -- their first losses of the season.
Prior to the starters returning, the seniors filled in and gained valuable experience that carried over into the rest of the season. On Saturday, Anderson scored three goals and Avery added one to help cap another championship season.
Layla Waters scored four goals and fellow sophomore Maddy Johnston added three, with sophomore Maddie Pendolino and junior Malaika Koshy contributing two each as the Gators completed the season without losing to a CCS opponent.
For those wondering about the streak, SHP will return its top three scorers -- Koshy, Johnston and Waters.
"Offensively, we're pretty complete next season," Burke said. "The biggest gap is on defense."
Defense wasn't a problem Saturday. After Soquel tied the match at 4 on Taylor Thorson's second goal with 2:54 left in the second quarter, SHP didn't allow another goal while going on an 11-0 run to close out the game.
"I didn't even know that," remarked Burke. "That's the biggest run we've gone on -- at least in the finals."
SHP's defensive stops, meanwhile, turned into numerous fast break goals.
"You're going to get goals when you play great defense," Burke said.
That allowed SHP to open its insurmountable lead and Burke to have all his seniors, perhaps fittingly, see action in the final moments.
Division I girls
Gunn's second straight appearance in the section finals resulted in a second straight loss to St. Francis, 9-7 on Saturday at Independence High. The top-seeded Lancers finished 21-8 while the No. 2 Titans ended their season 22-7.
Gunn senior goalie Sam Acker finished with 12 saves, six coming in the first quarter. The Titans stayed close throughout, with seniors Bianca Batista and Nia Gardner scoring on back-to-back possession to make it a 7-4 game in the third period.
Gunn trimmed its deficit to just one at 8-7 in the fourth on a goal by freshman Zoe Banks with just over four minutes left to play. The Lancers, however, held on defense and freshman Isabella Mandema added a final goal with 10 seconds.
The Titans will lose nine seniors to graduation off their 15-player roster, including at least five starters.