The Palo Alto girls lacrosse team won last year's Santa Clara Valley Athletic League championship game against Gunn behind its offense. This year, Paly won the title over its rival behind its defense.
The Vikings and goalkeeper Meredith Kinnaman held the Titans scoreless in the first half and won 5-3 at Gunn High on Saturday to claim their third straight SVCAL playoff title.
"Last year was big firepower there were a lot of stars who could take care of the ball and could finish beautifully, on both sides," Paly coach Jamie Nesbitt said. "This year was different -- it was both teams locking it down and more defensive."
Sophomore Ellen Goncher opened and closed the scoring for the Vikings (17-4). Freshman Abigail Ramsey and sophomore Charlotte Cheng also scored in the first half as Paly took a 3-0 lead into halftime, and senior Maya Benatar scored early in the second half for the Vikings.
"For us it's about valuing possession," Nesbitt said. "Taking care of it until we get the best opportunity. So I knew we weren't going for quantity of shots, we were going for quality of shots."
Gillian King had two goals for Gunn (13-9).
In last year's final, which ended 12-11, the Titans tied the game with 1.1 seconds left in regulation before the Vikings scored the winner with 12.9 seconds left in the second overtime period. There was no such drama this time.
Paly had won both regular-season meetings, 8-7 and 8-5, and have now beaten Gunn 12 times in the past 13 meetings dating to 2011.
"Gunn typically is a team that likes to hold the ball, and definitely takes shots unexpectedly," Kinnaman said. "So we knew going in it was going to be a low-scoring game, and that helped us prepare."
Kinnaman finished the 14-game league season and two-game playofs with 101 saves. Benatar tallied a team-high 38 goals during that time.
The Vikings rebounded from a 1-3 start against a tough schedule to win its third straight championship. Gunn also had a rough start -- including early-season injuries and a five-game losing streak -- before the Titans finished with 11 wins in 16 games.
"Last year we lost two games in league and waltzed our way to the final. It was a pretty easy year," Gunn coach Doug Arakawa said. "This year has been nothing but challenges and ups and downs, and actually this is a more satisfying year in the sense that we had to overcome a lot more to get to where we are today."
In the West Bay Athletic League playoffs, regular-season champ Sacred Heart Prep (16-5) will take on runner-up Menlo School (13-8) in the playoff championship game Tuesday at Palo Alto High (El Camino field) at 7 p.m.
Menlo advanced with a 5-4 victory over Menlo-Atherton while SHP moved on following a 19-4 triumph over Castilleja in semifinal matches Saturday.
It will be the third meeting for the rivals this season as SHP won, 13-12 in OT in the first and Menlo won the second, 11-7. It is the fourth consecutive time the teams have met in the finals SHP winning 13-8 in 2013, and again in 2014, 13-12, with Menlo taking the 2015 title match, 17-9.
Sacred Heart Prep got six goals and three assists from Cameron Gordon plus four goals from Libby Muir. Allison Carter added three goals and two assists with Juliana Clark and Emma Johnson each scoring twice.
At Menlo School, the Knights averted a second straight loss to the Bears as they overcame a 4-3 halftime deficit. Sophomore Abby Wolfenden scored the tying goal just 1:01 into the second half on an assist from Kaitline Frangione. Wolfenden got the next draw and junior Indira Varma wound up with the ball before passing to junior Allison Liddle, who scored with just 3:22 elapsed.
Amazingly, the teams then played the next 21:38 minutes without scoring.
"Both teams were well-prepared to face their opponent," said Menlo coach Jen Lee. "Both teams played with so much heart and hustle. It was a tremendous competition and contest between the two."
Menlo goalie Alena Stern had six saves in the first half and joined with a solid defense to blank the Bears in the second.