After eight years, Jon Burke finally got it right on the ninth try. As the final buzzer sounded, the Sacred Heart Prep girls water polo coach raised his arms and leaped into the pool. It was picture perfect.
"That was fun," said Burke, following his team's 11-6 victory over No. 2 St. Francis in the Central Coast Section Division II title match at Independence High. "It never gets old."
A few hours later, SHP coach Brian Kreutzkamp enjoyed the same championship moment with his boys following an 11-8 victory over No. 2 Menlo School. It took him only five years to perfect his postgame celebratory dive.
"Fortunately," Kreutzkamp said of his victory dive, "I've been able to work on it."
In a matchup between the No. 1 and 2 seeds in both the girls' and boys' Division II finales, the SHP girls (24-5) won their unprecedented ninth straight section crown while the SHP boys (22-7) captured their fifth straight.
"That was pretty exciting," Burke said. "Historically, St. Francis is our biggest rival. This was a true CCS championship match, with the top two teams in the section."
Burke was actually concerned prior to the match after his team squeaked out a 4-3 win over St. Francis to win the West Catholic Athletic League playoff title a few weeks ago. Would the finals be a repeat? Could the Lancers end SHP's streak?
"It (the close win) helped us re-focus," Burke explained. "We had beaten them three times and we knew we played great defense that night. When they (the Lancers) dropped to Division II, it was 'here we go again.'"
SHP was well-prepared for meeting St. Francis (21-8) in the finals for the first time since 2007 as the Gators jumped out to a 3-0 lead and made it 4-1 by the end of the first quarter. The Lancers got to within 7-3 by halftime, but SHP junior Maddie Pendolino and sophomore Nadia Paquin each scored their second goals to open the third period and the Gators looked solid at 9-3.
Senior Malaika Koshy scored her lone goal with 6:02 left in the match and junior Layla Waters followed with her second moments later for an 11-5 bulge. After that, it was time to celebrate.
"It couldn't have ended any better," said Koshy, the team's lone senior who is headed for Stanford next fall. "This has been a most amazing experience for me. We train so hard every day. I'm just so proud of my girls."
Koshy is one of a select few who have started all four years for Burke, who finished up his 10th year at SHP.
"She showed great leadership today," said Burke. "She's been outstanding all four years. It's hard to see her go."
Opponents are probably happy to see Koshy go. Unfortunately for them, Burke returns everyone else.
Junior goalie Jane Rakow, who was on the JV last year, grew up quickly this season and had nine saves in her first CCS finale. Sophomore Claire Kerrigan also made a big splash with two goals as did Paquin, who transferred in from Menlo-Atherton.
St. Francis was so intent on stopping SHP scoring leaders Maddy Johnston, a junior, and Koshy, that other Gators stepped up.
"The thing I'm most happy about," said Burke, "is finishing the year with such a great effort. I thought we played as well as we've played this year."
As for seeking a 10th straight title next season?
"Let's just enjoy this," Burke said.
Kreutzkamp, who finished his 11th year, was probably feeling the same way later, after drying off and letting the day's performance soak in.
"Everything that could have gone wrong this week, pretty much did," Kreutzkamp said. "We lost our starting goalie and Jackson Enright jammed his hand. Our goal today was just go out and get a win."
Junior goalie JC Marco, who has been so outstanding this season, was in street clothes due to mononucleosis.
"It's pretty bad," explained Kreutzkamp. "This was the first time he's been out in a week. I'm just glad he was able to be here."
With Marco out, sophomore goalie Alexander Nemeth stepped up in a very big way and made 14 saves in a standout role.
"He saved us," Kreutzkamp said of Nemeth. "He stepped up. Once he started doing that, the rest of the kids responded."
If Nemeth was worried about starting the CCS finale, Marco helped ease any jitters by sending Nemeth a text on Friday night -- telling him the entire team was behind him.
And they were, despite Kreutzkamp starting his youngest lineup ever in a CCS final.
"I had five freshmen/sophomores among the starting seven," Kreutzkamp said. "I've never done that before. But, talent has no age. I challenged them and they responded."
Among those who raised their games was SHP sophomore Alex Tsotadze, who scored a game-high four goals.
"He just really rose to the occasion," Kreutzkamp said.
Tsotadze's first goal tied the match at 2 in the first quarter. He second game the Gators a 7-4 halftime lead. His third opened the third period, giving SHP an 8-4 bulge and his last provided the proverbial nail in the coffin after Menlo (18-12) had rallied to within 10-8 on back-to-back goals by freshman Sam Untrecht.
"We're just battle-tested," said Kreutzkamp. "We play a very difficult schedule. We lost seven times this season, that's a lot."
Despite what was at stake, Kreutzkamp told his players the CCS finale would be just another tough game. And, it was.
SHP overcame a 2-1 first-quarter deficit by scoring four straight goals to end the period. The Gators later grabbed its biggest lead at 10-5 after freshman Andrew Churukian scored his second straight goal while finishing with three. Nine of the Gators' goals were scored by players returning next season.
Menlo, however, never gave up -- something coach Jack Bowen was happy to see.
"Sacred Heart showed they were 2-3 goals better than us," Bowen said. "They deserved to win. You just can't spot them three goals early. But, we were absolutely in that game."
Bowen said it just came down to details, SHP doing making the right pass at the right time or not turning it over at a crucial juncture.
"I don't see it (the loss) as a failure on our part," said Bowen. "Our kids had a tremendous season."
Menlo graduates five seniors, two of whom (Chris Xi and James Thygesen) scored on Saturday. The other six goals came from players returning next season -- sophomore Miller Geschke had three to lead Menlo plus three assists-- along with standout junior goalie Tiago Bonchristiano, who finished with seven saves.
The Knights will be a factor again next season. Then again, so will the Gators. They lose just Finn Banks and Jack Hocker. Banks had two goals in his final match.
"Last year, the goal was getting the seniors out with another title," said Kreutzkamp. "This year was accepting that this wasn't going to be a rebuilding year."