Third-seeded Palo Alto edged top-seeded Los Altos, 13-12, in the finals of the CCS Division I tournament at Independence High on Monday, winning all three games of the tourney by a single goal.
The final four seconds against the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League champion Eagles were eerily similar to the final seconds of regulation against SCVAL runner-up Los Gatos in the semifinals.
In both cases it worked out but not without several tense moments and the Vikings (20-11) won their first CCS title in 21 years.
Top-seeded Menlo School took a different route to its first CCS title in 12 years, winning its three tournament games by 13, 4 and 10 goals in Division II. The Knights (20-9) were in complete control in beating Saratoga, 20-10, immediately following Paly.
Both teams advanced into the NorCal tournament, which was scheduled to get underway Friday in Clovis.
Palo Alto senior goalie Ben Rapperport had a feeling his team could win the title about halfway through the season.
"I really think over the second half of the season we were the best team in the SCVAL," he said. "We worked for it and we grinded it out."
The Knights reached the CCS Division II championship game last year, its first appearance in the finals in 11 years, only to lose.
"After that loss, I think we immediately set our sights on winning this year," Menlo senior Mia Rosenblatt said. "We've come a long way and have grown exponentially. It's all about being a cohesive team and trusting in each other. This means a lot to the seniors. This is the time Menlo makes a comeback and dominants again."
Paly grad Ethan Look is finishing his first year as coach on a high.
"During the first week of tryouts I brought everybody into the fabulous new gym and we looked at two banners, one a SCVAL banner and one a CCS banner," Look said. "We committed to it at that moment. These guys had great vision and a great work ethic. They deserved it."
Menlo coach Claire Howie is also in her first year after coaching the JVs last season.
"I can't ask for a better senior class," Howie said. "It started with three seniors who helped shape the entire season. When our starting goalie got hurt, Natalie (Hilderbrand) became our fourth senior. She was willing to step up and help her friends and the team."
It was that kind of support that inspired both teams to achieve their goals.
"In the first half of the season we dropped a few games but then changed up our schemes a little bit," said Paly junior Ryan Stanley, who scored a game-high six goals. "This means so much. When we went to the gym and realized it had been over 20 years . . . now we're there with the great players."
The Vikings (20-11) had only been in one other CCS title match (2007) since beating Menlo, 12-7, for the trophy in 1997.
Charles Mitz, Dexter Gormley and Zander Darby each scored twice and Javid Alasti also scored for the Vikings.
"A lot of people helped us win," Look said. "It wasn't just the team. From my first moment at Paly to this moment, I can thank (former coach) Brendan Johnson, (Paly A.D.) Therren Wilburn, the entire coaching staff, a lot of people contributed."
Playing in a CCS tournament wasn't on Meg Reinstra's radar when she and fellow seniors Rosenblatt and Meri Klingelhofer were freshman. After all, Menlo School hadn't been to a CCS tournament in 10 years.
Imagine how they felt Monday, standing there with the championship trophy.
"I remember as freshmen we were in the play-in game just to get into the PAL tournament," Reinstra said. "CCS was the last thing on our minds. We've definitely come a long way."
When sophomore Celeste Aguilar, the only available goalie on the team, got hurt six weeks into the season, the Knights needed another goalie quickly. Junior Sophie Reynolds, who also swims at Menlo, may be the unsung hero. She recruited fellow swimmer Hilderbrand, who had not played water polo since she was 12.
And while they might be losing four critical seniors, the Knights can replenish with the nine returnees, who accounted for 13 of the 20 goals on Monday, and a healthy Aguilar.
"It's been an awesome learning experience for myself, the coaching staff and the girls," Howie said. "Each year you could see them come together as a team a little more, training harder and participating in summer teams. Everybody was willing to put in the extra effort."
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