Included in that group of graduates was two-time CCS Division I Player of the Year Becca Dorst.
While Menlo-Atherton opened this season with a handful of talented holdovers from the past two seasons, including reigning CCS Division I Goalie of the Year Emily Dorst, the talent level just wasn't the same.
That appeared evident on Sept. 11 when Castilleja handed Menlo-Atherton a 4-2 defeat in the third round of the St. Francis Autumn Invitational.
"The last time we played them, they absolutely shut us down," M-A coach Chris Rubin said of that surprising loss to the Gators.
In the past four weeks, the Bears refocused their efforts on who the key opposing players are and how best to defend them. In addition, M-A continued to improve upon putting the ball in the net and playing better as a team.
"Cohesiveness has been has been a great topic of discussion," Rubin said. "In my first year as varsity coach I learned something very important, that it's never the top players who wins games but your fifth, sixth and seventh players. Those players will make a difference. I think that happened today."
Getting important contributions from throughout the starting lineup, the Bears avenged their previous loss to Castilleja by handing the visiting Gators a 6-3 loss in a showdown for first place in the PAL Bay Division on Wednesday.
"We played great today," Rubin said.
Barring a major misstep, the Bears (3-0, 9-4) will defend their league title. Menlo-Atherton still has two PAL matches remaining — at Sequoia and Aragon — but those should be routine affairs. Also, there are no league playoffs this season, just a single round of matches. Thus, Castilleja (2-1, 7-5) will have to wait yet another season in an attempt to wrest the title away from M-A.
While the Bears did return the section's top goalie in Dorst plus dependable scorer M.J. O'Neill, this M-A team had only four seniors. Castilleja, on the other hand, came in with eight seniors and a coaching staff that featured 2008 U.S. Olympians Brenda Villa and Jessica Steffens.
While it appeared the Bears might be ripe for an upset, it didn't happen because Menlo-Atherton's defense was superb this time — sparked by Dorst's 16 saves.
"Having Emily in the cage means we don't have to be one-dimensional on defense," Rubin said. "It's just a gift to have her there."
Dorst's performance in the first half was crucial, because she faced the setting sun and could have been blinded on any number of shots. Yet, she came up with save after save while the Bears grabbed a 4-1 lead on two goals by O'Neill and junior Emily Gran, whose second goal made it 4-1 and came after Castilleja hole defender Grace Arnold picked up her third ejection — putting her on the bench the remainder of the match.
M-A senior Shelby Fero added a crucial goal with just 21 seconds left in the third quarter, thus taking any pressure off the Bears and putting it on the Gators. Castilleja did add fourth-quarter goals by senior Barbara Peterson (off a missed shot) and sophomore Sydney Molano from outside, sandwiched around a goal by M-A junior Brittany Krappe.
"The league championship was riding on this game and the kids really responded," Rubin said.
Junior Marie Popp added three assists and junior Danielle Flanagan was solid on defense for M-A while Gran and O'Neill helped blank Castilleja high scorer Natasha von Kaeppler. The Gators' top three scorers were limited to just two goals, by Peterson and senior Sayeh Bozorghadad.
In another PAL Bay Division contest, Menlo School goalie Lindsay Montgomery came up with 12 saves and the Knights pulled away in the second half to register a 10-7 victory over visiting Sequoia. Menlo (1-2, 4-10) got three goals from Morgan Cundiff and two each from Hailey Smith and Ilana Crankshaw while outscoring the Cherokees, 7-4, in the second half.
In the SCVAL De Anza Division, host Gunn maintained its hold on second place with a solid 15-6 swamping of Monta Vista. Junior Elizabeth Anderson tallied five goals for the Titans (6-1, 12-1) while senior Shelby Newman added four. Freshman Caroline Anderson and junior Casey Lincoln each had two.
Gunn will host first-place Los Altos on Tuesday at 4:45 p.m., with the league's regular-season title at stake.
On Tuesday, Sacred Heart Prep effectively wrapped up the West Catholic Athletic League regular-season title with a 10-4 triumph over visiting Presentation.
Sarah Westcott scored four goals and goalie Catherine Donahoe had 10 saves, while Emily Parsons and Pippa Temple added two goals each for the Gators (5-0, 14-1), who have only one league match remaining — against Mitty on Oct. 28.
SHP next will compete in the Davis Fall Classic on Friday, where the Gators may have an opportunity to avenge their only loss of the season — to Davis in the season-opening St. Francis Autumn Invitational on Sept. 11. Since that loss, the Gators have won 12 straight.
Boys' water polo
Sacred Heart Prep maintained its hold on second place in the West Catholic Athletic League with a big 10-7 triumph over host Bellarmine on Wednesday evening. Senior Philip Bamberg led the Gators (4-1, 9-5) with four goals while sophomore goalie Will Runkel had 12 saves. Senior Robert Dunlevie and freshman Harrison Enright each added three goals.
In PAL Bay Division action, first-place Menlo swamped host Sequoia, 23-6, in a lopsided contest as 12 Knights scored. Jack Lucas (four goals) and John Gilhuly (three) led Menlo, which had three goalies combine for 12 saves.
Menlo will host De La Salle on Friday (6 p.m.) in a big nonleague match.
In another match, host Menlo-Atherton (2-1, 10-7) dunked visiting Carlmont, 24-3, as every Bear scored at least once.
Jake Bercow's four goals led the way in the match that saw Carlmont at a disadvantage all day with only 10 players suited up. The Scots got in foul trouble early and played most of the second half with no substitutes.
M-A coach Marco Palazzo played his second team much of the time, but the Bears still were much fresher than Carlmont and it showed. Senior Nick Henze had three steals and two assists to go with a solo goal. Emery Welton also posted two assists and Alex Gow made six saves in the cage.
The Bears will host Santa Margarita from Southern California on Saturday at 10 a.m.
In the SCVAL De Anza Division, sophomore Bret Pinsker scored three goals during a 17-6 loss to first-place Los Altos on Wednesday in the Vikings' pool. Paly fell to 5-3 in league (6-7 overall).
At Gunn, Ben Hendricks scored four goals but the Titans (3-4 in league) dropped a 7-6 division match to Monta Vista.