By the time Palo Alto finished its regular-season schedule, it was battle-tested and medal-worthy. An undefeated league champion was a challenge and the Vikings were ready.
Sophie Frick scored four times and ninth-seeded Palo Alto turned back Salinas, 12-3, in the first round of the Central Coast Section Division I girls water polo playoffs Tuesday at Homestead High.
“Our league is extremely strong and always competitive,” Vikings coach Aileen Delaney said, her voice hoarse from urging her team on. “We always try to play good competition. We didn't overlook (Salinas). Their record means something. I'm happy with how we played.”
Talia Stanley and Sabrina Hall each added a pair of goals for the Vikings (13-15), who finished fifth in the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League De Anza Division. The top four teams in the league were seeded third through sixth in Division I and face each other in Saturday's quarterfinal round.
Palo Alto can join them with a victory over No. 8 Menlo-Atherton (14-8) on Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at Mountain View High. No. 10 Lincoln-San Jose plays No. 7 Woodside (13-10) at 7 p.m.
“We've definitely improved a lot,” Vikings senior Haley Chalmers said. “Toward the end of the season we were playing game after game. It seemed like we were playing seven games in one day. That brought us closer together as a team.”
Palo Alto played seven games in a five-day stretch between Oct. 11-15 that included the Western States tournament, and then played another four games over a six-day stretch, which included the SCVAL tournament, that included Tuesday's victory over the Cowboys.
The Vikings, who have not played a true home game all season because of gym construction on campus, have won five of their last seven games.
Salinas went undefeated in the Monterey Bay Athletic League and completed its year with a 17-7 record. The Cowboys, whose schedule included Aptos and Lincoln, entered the contest on a three-game winning streak in which they outscored opponents, 37-7.
“We tried to look at this as the start of a new season,” Chalmers said. “We wanted to go out and play our best. Our goal is to play as well as we can and see how far it goes.”
Palo Alto lost to the Bears, 4-2, in the final game of the St. Francis tournament nearly two months ago. Chalmers scored one of the two goals and senior goalie Joanna Falla stopped nine of 13 shots.
“It was a competitive game that could have gone either way,” Delaney said. “Now we've gotten all these games under our belt.”
Freshman Chesnie Cheung, who scored against the Cowboys and has a season-high of six, never played water polo until this year and has made tremendous strides.
Then again, Cheung is a disciplined athlete used to fitting into a team concept. She's part of the U.S. national synchronized swimming program and has won gold medals on the international stage.
M-A finished third in the Peninsula Athletic League Bay Division, behind Castilleja and Woodside.
The Vikings scored early, and often, and rode a defensive effort led by Falla to an 8-1 halftime lead over Salinas as Molly Weitzman, Hollie Chiao and Isabel Taggart also scored.
Menlo 9, Aptos 6
Menlo sprinted to a five-point halftime lead, and then held off Aptos, 9-6, in the first round of the Central Coast Section Division II playoffs Tuesday at Santa Cruz High.
The 11th-seeded Knights (9-11) play seventh-seeded St. Ignatius (11-13) at 5:30 pm Thursday, at Serra High in San Mateo.
Menlo junior goalie Gillian Bressie stopped 10 shots and contributed a pair of assists to the win over Aptos. Senior Chloe Ebrahimian posted a hat trick, freshman Sophie Golub had two goals and two assists and junior Parker Callender contributed three assists.
"Our initial game plan was to come out strong and confident on offense and shut them down on defense," Menlo first-year coach Alana Burgess said. "We stuck to our game plan and had a lot of people step up on both ends of the pool. We play our best water polo when we stick to our game plan and focus on ourselves."
The Knights staked out a 6-1 lead by halftime, and that helped set the tone.
"It was good that we got the early lead, we do better when we're ahead early - it seems to give us energy," Bressie said.
Bressie, among the upperclassmen leaders who made their first CCS appearance, can appreciate what the young team has achieved.
"There's so much talent throughout the levels," Bressie said.
Sarah Donato, Meg Reinstra, Mia Rosenblatt, and Sydney Bianchi also scored for the Knights, who are looking for their first trip to the CCS quarterfinals since 2010.