Since they began playing soccer against each other in the West Bay Athletic League (Foothill Division) in 2009, the Menlo School and Sacred Heart Prep girls are dead even.
The rivals have played each other 15 times, including the postseason, and are 4-4-7 against each other. That stat, however, is misleading. The Gators won three times from 2009-2011 and the Knights won four times from 2012-14.
Thus, a lot was at stake for SHP heading into Thursday's first of two showdowns with Menlo -- sole possession of first place notwithstanding.
SHP seniors Mamie Caruso, Nicole Wheeler, Brigid White and Emma Markey had a streak to end. Thanks to junior Tierna Davidson's two goals, the seniors achieved their goal.
"This is the first time my seniors have beaten them," said SHP coach Ramiro Arrendondo. "This victory was for them."
Davidson made it possible by tallying twice in the first half to lead a 2-0 triumph over the host Knights. SHP improved to 4-0 in the WBAL Foothill Division (10-2-1 overall) and now sits alone in first place. The Gators also avenged the only two blemishes on their league record last season -- a loss and tie to the WBAL champion Knights.
Menlo, meanwhile, dropped to 3-1 (6-3-3) while suffering its first loss to the Gators since Feb. 25, 2011 and its first home loss ever since the teams became WBAL rivals.
"They have some very good players," said Menlo coach Donoson FitzGerald, now in his 26th season. "Our kids played very well, but we didn't possess the ball very well. Prep is better than last year and, right now, we're not as good as last year."
Both teams reached the Central Coast Section Division III title match last season, which appropriately ended in a 1-1 deadlock in overtime. Both teams are taking aim at return trips.
SHP looks to have a good shot. The Gators controlled the pace of the game, was more physical and put the Knights on their heels quickly. Davidson took a pass from freshman Mia Shenk and scored from 15 yards out in the 13th minute before blasting a 20-yard shot in off a free kick in the 28th minute.
Menlo's best scoring opportunity came with the Knights trailing 1-0, when Cleo King's 20-yard shot hit the crossbar with 13 minutes left in the first half. Then, with less than two minutes left, Menlo's Emily Demmon had a 1v1 with SHP keeper Lexi Lamb, who had come out of the cage. Demmon fired a shot to what appeared to be an open goal, but Lamb reached out and got a hand on it, deflecting the attempt.
The teams played fairly evenly in the second half as Menlo shut down SHP's high-scoring offense. The Gators have outscored opponents 55-9 this season and are averaging 4.4 goals per match in their past 10 outings.
"We have a pretty offensive-minded group," said Arrendondo. "And, we're not giving up a lot of goals. We do a good job defensively as a group."
Menlo came in riding a five-match win streak while outscoring foes 13-5. In the Knights' previous six matches, however, they had scored just six goals. FitzGerald told his players they just need to learn from the setback and move on.
"Losing at home makes it even that much harder," FitzGerald said. "We're just trying to win the league right now. That's what we're focused on, and today I knew they were going to be a good team and it's a big game, so we're disappointed that we lost."
The rivals will meet again on Feb. 10 on the Gators' field. Likely, Menlo will be the last hurdle between SHP and an undefeated league season.
"We have the group of girls who can do it," Arrendondo said of being unbeaten.
By that time, he hopes to have some of his four injured players back, as well.