Sacred Heart Prep water polo coaches Brian Kreutzkamp and Jamie Frank agreed. Things finally felt normal.
A large crowd at SHP enjoyed the proceedings Wednesday, watching the SHP girls score the game's first seven goals en route to a 9-3 victory over St. Francis in the West Catholic Athletic League and season opener for both teams.
"This season feels so much more what we are used to," Frank said. "People were here and it was a great atmosphere. St. Francis has been a big game for us as long as I have been here. Both teams are always strong."
The SHP boys made it a clean sweep (the Gators also swept the JV contests, though the games were very competitive) with a 17-4 victory over the Lancers.
"Our guys have been itching to play," Kreutzkamp said. "We're excited about the season and we were a little too amped up. Once we settled down we were fine. It felt great to have fans and refs. It felt like a real water polo game."
Most schools played a shortened, league-only schedule when things opened again in January but it seemed so out of sync. The PAL, WCAL and SCVAL all played at different times and there was no chance of a post-season.
Kreutzkamp thinks this could be a special year for Sacred Heart Prep, if he can develop the depth needed to get through the high-powered tournaments the Gators enter.
Summer competition was wildly successful, with SHP reaching the championship of the summer season, losing to Huntington Beach by a single goal. Both teams are entered in the South Coast Invitational, which begins Thursday, Sept. 16 at Newport Beach High.
"We have a chance to make a difference on a national level," Kreutzkamp said. "We're still focused on winning CCS and keeping that streak alive and we could leave our mark nationally. Every so often you have a unique team and this is one of those teams."
It all starts with senior goalkeeper Griff Price, who will be playing at Stanford this time next year. He was playing with 16-18 year-olds when he was 13 and becomes the first four-year starting goalie Kreutzkamp has ever coached.
"I might be a little bias," Kreutzkamp said. "He's the best goalie in high school right now."
Against the Lancers, Price saved five of the nine shots he faced, recorded an assist and had a team-high five steals in just under 20 minutes. He's helped by a group of veterans that include Luke Weigle, Luke Johnston, Gavin West (a transfer), Will Swart, Jack Tsotadze (currently injured) and Jack Vort, all capable of playing in college.
Junior Hassen Hove, who comes off the bench, led the Gators with five goals Wednesday and that's encouraging.
"He's a strong 2-meter player," Kreutzkamp said. "I know I can put six or seven guys in the starting lineup and rest easy. To get through a long season, you need guys like Hove and sophomores like Tyler Hogan, who had a nice game. Those are the guys who have to step up."
Hogan and Nelson Harris each contributed a pair of goals and a pair of assists. West scored three goals, Vort added two goals and three assists and Weigle scored twice. Swart had two assists.
Orlando Hernandez Alvarado made his varsity debut in relief of Price and made it memorable, blocking a 5-meter penalty shot.
Zach Ramans, Brody Ghashghai, Carter Sayar and Terence O'Donnell each scored for the Lancers. Jean Luc Touma recorded 10 saves.
Ashley Penner and Megan Newby each scored three goals to pace the SHP girls. Brienz Lang added a pair of goals and Natalia Szczerba scored the game's first goal.
Paedrin Gillett, a back-up goalie to Megan Norris last season, rose to the occasion as the unquestioned starting goalie. She made 11 saves and had a .786 save percentage
"It was exciting to see Paedrin," Frank said. "She was eager to step into this moment and she played up to the high level of the game."
Alex Childs scored with 5:46 remaining to play to end SHP's bid for a shutout. Tiffany Maguire and Ali Guisti also scored for St. Francis.
Menlo 18, at Serra 5
Greg Hilderbrand scored six goals to pace the Knights (2-0, 1-0) in their WCAL opener on Wednesday.
Menlo took a 7-0 lead after one period and was never in danger as Cormac Mulloy and Finn Byrn combined for seven saves.
Jack Murad added four goals, Michael Fang had three and Jackson Kay two for the Knights, who host the Scott Roche Invitational, which begins Friday.
Ethan Babel led Menlo with three assists and co-captain Dakin Muhlner recorded a pair of steals.
Elsewhere, the Menlo-Atherton girls water polo team opened PAL play with a 20-4 win over Notre Dame Belmont and Sequoia fell to Aragon 11-5.
Natalie Dias, Alyssa Turenne and Katie Sinclair each recorded singles wins to help Sacred Heart Prep win on the road, a 6-1 nonleague victory over Pinewood.
Castilleja also won on the road, beating Gunn 6-1 in a nonleague match.
Sacred Heart Prep beat Presentation 25-21, 25-15, 20-25, 25-9 in a nonleague win at home Wednesday.
Neha Lalia shot a round of 42 in Sacred Heart Prep's 231-238 West Bay Athletic League loss to Mercy Burlingame at Sunnyvale Muni.
Katelyn Fung shot a 39 in Woodside's 217-223 setback to South San Francisco and Gianna Flores shot 35 in Sequoia's 209-229 victory over South San Francisco on Tuesday.