It was Senior Day for the Palo Alto boys and they gave themselves reason to celebrate with a 4-0 victory over visiting Fremont to wrap up the SCVAL De Anza Division soccer championship on Wednesday.
The Vikings, who waited until the final match of the 2015 season to clinch the division crown, took care of business a match earlier as Roberto Sotelo and fellow senior Dami Bolarinwa took turns scoring to give Paly its second straight crown.
Sotelo got the game-winner in the 26th minute unassisted and Bolarinwa scored 12 minutes later with senior Cole Tierney assisting. In the second half, it was Sotelo scoring again with Tierney assisting. Some 20 minutes later, Bolarinwa wrapped things up following an assist from junior Brian Tracy.
Paly improved to 8-0-3 (27 points) and 14-0-3 overall with just one match remaining. Second-place Homestead (5-1-4, 19 points) was idle Wednesday, but can't catch the Vikings.
Paly coach Don Briggs didn't set any goals this season, but knew this team was special.
"I actually never do that, although I knew in the beginning if we stayed healthy and progressed as a team that it was possible," he said. "So many things can happen with injuries and team dynamics that my first goal is to be competitive in every match and see where we end up in the end."
Palo Alto actually is ahead of the pace set by the standout 2009 team that finished 21-1-3 with a CCS co-championship. That squad was 14-1-2 after 17 matches.
"This is the fastest and most well-rounded team since 09'," explained Briggs.
Paly played well against Fremont in nearly all aspects of the game. Goalie Eli Friedlander had no saves and essentially no shots take on him. The Vikings, meanwhile, controlled most of the midfield with Xander Scherer and Sidd Srinivasan in the center and Sotelo and Tierney on the flanks. Bolarinwa and senior Allesandro Reale kept a constant pressure on Fremont that resulted in more than 10 corner kicks for the Vikings. Center backs Neal Verwillow and Reuben Kramer (getting back from injury) kept the Firebirds away from any shots on goal.
Palo Alto celebrated its 11 seniors, the bulk of the 19-player roster that has been hit with an inordinate number of injuries this season.
"I can't remember having the overall number of injuries that we have experienced this year," Briggs said. "We had to bring a freshman up last game versus Mountain View, but its tough for him to get up to speed with the varsity level in such a short time.
"With all the injuries, it was hard to get over the hump to get the wins. Ties were getting a little frustrating and affecting the team's performance. Players were almost trying too hard. We were competing well, but we were missing the little extra that the full team provides. We have really had a hard time keeping the midfield together and have had to do a patchwork job in the defense."
Paly did get back Cameron Huard and Matt Knowles on Wednesday but are now missing Michel-Ange Siaba (ankle) , Derek Schoenberger (groin), Jack Stoksik (five games with a foot injury) and Max Hallberg (torn foot ligament). The Vikings are down to 15 healthy players. Briggs expects Siaba and Schoenberger to be back soon, but Hallberg and Stoksik look to be sidelined the rest of the season.
"Stoksik and Hallberg are two of our faster players and had big-time shots," said Briggs. "I'm keeping my fingers crossed that they will still be available before CCS ends."
In the West Bay Athletic League, Menlo School settled for a 2-2 tie with visiting Eastside Prep, but the deadlock did little to hurt the Knights' postseason plans. Menlo moved to 6-2-2 in league (20 points) and 10-4-2 overall) and remained in second place with a pair of league matches remaining.
King's Academy (9-0-1, 28 points) sits in first while Sacred Heart Prep (5-4-1, 16 points) is in third. Only the top two teams automatically qualify for the Central Coast Section playoffs.
The Knights started quickly against the Panthers when senior Will Chisholm scored on an assist from freshman Ben Lasky a minute into the game. Eastside countered with a pair of first-half goals to take the lead. Lasky opened the second half with a goal on an assist from Chisholm.
Menlo had several more shots, but hit the crossbar and posts. The Knights got strong defensive outings from seniors Michael Quezada, Tyler McGraw and Matt Joss.
Just up the street, host Sacred Heart Prep kept its very slim hopes alive for a CCS playoff berth with a 7-0 rout of Priory. The Gators (8-7-3 overall) got the eventual winning goal from Trevor Peay off an assist from Matthew MacFarquhar. Daniel Sanchez scored off an assist from Sash Novitsky and Nikhil Goel took a pass from MacFarquhar and scored to close a 3-0 halftime lead.
Peay and Connor Johnston opened the second half with goals, assisted by Novitsky and Brian Pica, respectively. Will Mummery then followed with a penalty kick and another goal, assisted by Arthur Micha.
SHP needs to win its final two matches, one against King's Academy, and hope that Menlo loses both its final two for the Gators to reach the CCS playoffs.
In the PAL Bay Division, Menlo-Atherton got a break and moved into a three-way tie for first place following a 7-1 romp over visiting South San Francisco on Senior Day for the Bears. M-A improved to 7-2-2 in league (11-3-2 overall) and joined Aragon and Sequoia atop the standings. Aragon suffered a tie with Burlingame on Wednesday, forcing the three-way deadlock.
The Bears made quick work of South City by taking a 4-0 halftime lead on goals by Jean Claverie, Ethan Oro, Riu Sakaguchi and Kyle Bryan. In the second half, Kyle Smith scored twice, sandwich by a goal from Axel Brenner. Smith finished with two goals and two assists while Oro had one of each and Patrick Quinn provided two assists.
M-A, which was coming off two ties and a loss, has three matches remaining on the road -- Burlingame, Aragon and Carlmont. The match at Aragon on Feb. 17 now looms as a possible title-decider because Aragon will host Sequoia on Friday.
Palo Alto kept its title hopes alive in the SCVAL De Anza Division following a 1-0 victory over host Saratoga on Wednesday. Senior Alison Lu scored in the eighth minute off a double assist by Nika Woodfill and Ansley Queen that held up throughout the game.
The Vikings improved to 9-1-1 in league (15-1-1 overall) and remain in first place with 28 points. Mountain View, which handed Santa Clara a 4-0 loss Wednesday, is still in second place at 8-0-2 (26 points). The Spartans, however, have two matches remaining while the Vikings have just one.
Palo Alto's defense held the Falcons at bay as keeper Linnea Carlstrom had to make only one save for Paly's 10th shutout in league play and 13th shutout for the season.
In the SCVAL El Camino Division, Gunn celebrated its Senior Night with a 2-0 victory over visiting Cupertino. The Titans improved to 7-3-1 in league and 9-6-1 overall and still have hopes of catching first-place Fremont and securing a CCS berth.
Gunn scored a goal in each half as sophomore Natalie Hill scored in the first half with an assist from freshman Hailey Leclerc while senior Annie Vesey scored an unassisted goal in the second half.