Only a few can reach the top. Only five girls' basketball teams in the state of California can earn the right to be called state champions. Only one team can win NorCal and Central Coast Section finals in boys' tennis.
Winning either is the pinnacle of success while finishing undefeated is an accomplished shared by very few.
Thus, the 2009-10 high school sports season provided us with something very special as the Pinewood girls' basketball team won the CIF State Division V crown and the Menlo School boys' tennis team swept the Grand Slam of the sport and took it a step further with a perfect season.
That combination of success made this past school year unique. While Pinewood had won three previous state titles and Menlo had captured six previous NorCal crowns, the Knights' perfect season made the duo's accomplishments quite special.
Pinewood started the season in no shape to win a state title, having four players sidelined with knee injuries. The Panthers eventually would get three of the players back, one of whom (junior Jenna McLoughlin) made a huge difference.
The Panthers went 16-1 after McLoughlin returned, topped by a 62-44 victory over St. Anthony's (Long Beach) in the state finals in Bakersfield in March. The victory gave Pinewood a 27-6 record while avenging a 43-42 loss to St. Anthony's in December. Since that defeat, the Panthers went 21-2 and completed one of the more remarkable seasons in local prep basketball history.
Pinewood overcome the injury problems, put the end of its 149-game league winning streak behind it and won a state title with only two available seniors. Thus, the future is very bright for the Panthers heading into the 2010-11 season.
The same could be said for the Menlo boys' tennis team, which loses only two senior starters in singles (Jamin Ball and Patrick Chase) from a squad that went 27-0 and team and made local tennis history by winning the National High School All-American Boys Invitational Team Tournament, the CCS and NorCal titles in addition to finishing the season undefeated. No team in NorCal history ever had pulled off such a feat.
"You can't do better than we did this year," said Menlo coach Bill Shine. "If you're talking about the best teams in the country, Menlo has to be in that conversation."
The Knights toppled a very good Saratoga team three times during the season, once in the national tourney in addition to the CCS and NorCal finals. That in itself was quite a feat.
While tennis topped the list of accomplishments at Menlo this school year, it was just the best of many highlights by a small school that produced big results.
The Menlo baseball team won the CCS Division III championship with an 8-2 victory over Hillsdale just a few weeks after tennis finished up. The Knights went 25-6, captured the fourth section crown in school history and concluded the year on a 14-game winning streak.
Senior shortstop Danny Diekroeger wrapped up a remarkable prep career after starting the season by leading Menlo (9-4) to its first-ever appearance in the CCS football playoffs and Small School Division finals. Despite losing the title game to Carmel, 56-35, Diekroeger broke all kinds of records with 470 passing yards and five touchdowns. His 4,187 passing yards (with 35 touchdowns) was a Bay Area record.
Also in the fall, the Menlo girls' tennis team won its 168th straight league match since 1994 while winning the West Bay Athletic League crown. The Menlo boys' water polo team reached the CCS Division II finals before losing to rival Sacred Heart Prep. In the spring, the Menlo girls' lacrosse team successfully defended its league title with a 16-14 overtime victory over Burlingame to finish a solid season at 17-4. The Knights also had the best golfer in the CCS in junior Patrick Grimes, who won individual honors in the section tournament — his 64 was the lowest round ever in the finals — and advanced all the way to the state finals where he finished sixth.
If there was an award for best overall sports program in the area this past season, Menlo School undoubtedly would have earned it.
In a season filled with highlights, here are a few of the best:
In the fall . . .
* The Sacred Heart Prep boys' and girls' water polo teams set their sights on winning a third consecutive CCS championship and both teams succeeded in their quest. The SHP boys became the first Division II teams to win three in a row with a surprisingly easy 15-6 romp over rival Menlo. The SHP girls won a defensive battle with St. Ignatius, 6-2, with both Sacred Heart teams sending their seniors off the best way possible. The Gators' David Culpan and Ben Dearborn shared MVP honors on the CCS Division II team while Heather Smith was the girls' CCS Division II MVP.
* The Palo Alto girls' volleyball team started the season just 2-3, but then compiled a 33-match winning streak that saw the Vikings sweep through the SCVAL De Anza Division and into the CCS Division II semifinals before they lost to the nation's No. 1 team, Mitty. Coach Dave Winn took his team and senior standout Marissa Florant into the NorCal playoffs, where a remarkable 36-5 season ended in a semifinal loss to St. Francis (Sacramento).
* Gunn senior Paul Summers capped his fine prep career by winning the CCS Division II individual title and helping his team reach the state meet. Palo Alto senior Philip MacQuitty also capped his final year of running the hills with a top-15 finish at the state finals.
* In other football highlights, Palo Alto toppled Los Gatos and Milpitas during the regular season and earned a berth into the CCS Open Division. There, however, the Vikings ran up against eventual champion and state finals participant Bellarmine and saw its 7-2-2 season end. Sacred Heart Prep made a strong showing in its first appearance in the PAL Bay Division, finishing second and reaching the CCS playoffs for a second straight season before falling to Menlo and finishing 8-4. Gunn saw a resurgence in its program under first-year coach Bob Sykes. The Titans tied for the SCVAL El Camino Division title and qualified for the CCS playoffs for only the third time in school history. A loss to Leland in the opening round capped the Titans' fine season at 7-4.
In the winter . . .
* The Sacred Heart Prep boys captured the WBAL crown and went on to defeat Palma for the CCS Division V title while Pinewood reached the Division V finals before falling.
* The Eastside Prep girls' basketball team ended one of the longest winning streaks in local history by beating Pinewood, 46-38, to snap Pinewood's streak of 149 straight league victories.
* The Menlo-Atherton girls reached the CCS finals, as did Castilleja, before both teams lost tough decisions. Castilleja went on to host its first-ever NorCal playoff game.
* Sacred Heart Prep defended its WBAL girls' soccer title, but couldn't win a second straight CCS crown as the Gators fell in the Division III semifinals. SHP, however, did gain a big prize when junior Abby Dahlkemper was named the Gatorade Player of the Year for the state of California. She also won her second straight MVP award in the WBAL while leading the Gators to a 14-5-3 record with 16 goals and eight assists.
In the spring . . .
* Palo Alto put together the best baseball season in school history (29-4) while setting a school mark with a 24-game winning streak that ended in a loss to Burlingame in the CCS Division II finals. Menlo-Atherton won its second CCS playoff game in school history and it was a huge one, a 9-5 shocker over St. Francis in the second round of Division I play.
* Palo Alto played its first-ever season of boys' lacrosse, but didn't show a lack of inexperience as the Vikings won the SCVAL playoffs with a 10-9 overtime victory over Mountain View. Paly also knocked off No. 1 seed Menlo in overtime in the semifinals.
* The Paly girls, in their third season of playing lacrosse, also gained their first-ever league title with a 10-9 overtime triumph over St. Francis. The two league titles came back-to-back on the Vikings' own field. Palo Alto opened the season with a shocking victory over St. Ignatius, one of the top teams in Northern California.
* Castilleja senior pitcher Sammy Albanese tied a national record with 10 straight no-hitters and tied a state mark with 22 strikeouts in a seven-inning game during another remarkable season. She also struck out 17 in a 2-0 win over R.L. Stevenson, only the second CCS victory in school history and the first section win during Albanese's career. She finished with 395 strikeouts during an 18-9-2 campaign.
* Menlo-Atherton senior Alec Haley became the first boys' tennis player in school history to win the CCS singles title as he won the rain-delayed event by winning three matches in the same day. Menlo's Andrew Carlisle and Justin Chan swept the doubles crown.
* Palo Alto sophomore Jasmine Tosky and Sacred Heart Prep sophomore Tom Kremer each won a pair of CCS individual swim titles, with Tosky breaking section records in the 200 free and 100 fly while Kremer lowered school marks while winning the 200 free and 100 back. Tosky helped the Vikings take second in the girls' team race while Kremer helped SHP finish third in the boys' race.
* Pinewood senior Angela Gradiska overcame a mid-season foot injury to successfully defend her 100 and 200 titles at the CCS track and field finals. Palo Alto senior Philip MacQuitty didn't win a section crown, but he did reach the state finals in the 1,600 meters and brought home a third-place medal after running state-leading times earlier in the season in the 800 and 1,600.
MacQuitty's medal-winning race brought the 2009-10 high school sports season to an end, a season highlighted by remarkable team and individual achievement. While the seniors are headed off to college and the next step in their athletic lives, the underclassmen will be busy this summer preparing for their day in the spotlight.
After all, the clock is ticking. The 2010-11 school year is barely two months away, and it promises to be a good one.
This story contains 1767 words.
Stories older than 90 days are available only to subscribing members. Please help sustain quality local journalism by becoming a subscribing member today.
If you are already a subscriber, please log in so you can continue to enjoy unlimited access to stories and archives. Subscriptions start at $5 per month and may be cancelled at any time.