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November 19, 2004

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, November 19, 2004

One final shot One final shot (November 19, 2004)

As Menlo boys and girls take aim at CCS titles, senior Andy Suiter hopes the final water polo match of his career will be a winner

by Keith Peters

Andy Suiter knows what it feels like to hoist a championship trophy. He did just that last spring after helping the Menlo School baseball team capture the Central Coast Section Division III title.

"It was really exciting, one of the best feelings," Suiter said. "All those guys on the team, I was so close to. When we were driving home on the bus, everyone was so excited and having such a good time. It was like, wow, making it through the playoffs was such a big deal. When we actually won the championship, it was just incredible."

While Suiter will have the opportunity to relive those feelings next spring in his final baseball season at Menlo, the senior has yet to experience that championship moment in water polo.

As a freshman, Suiter played football. As a sophomore, he watched as the Knights were routed by Soquel in the CCS Division II finals. Last season, it was Sacred Heart Prep denying Menlo in the finals.

That brings us to Saturday's CCS Division II championship match against St. Francis, set for 1:30 p.m. at Independence High at 1:30 p.m. Menlo (29-5) is seeded No. 1 and St. Francis (26-7) is No. 2. For Suiter, it will be the final water polo match of his career. Next fall, he'll be preparing for a full-time baseball career at UCLA.

Time just flies, doesn't it?

"I remember my first (water polo) season as a sophomore," Suiter said. "It (the CCS finals) was a blowout. That was bitter, but I thought we'd have a pretty good team the next season. We surprised ourselves (in 2003) and made it all the way to the finals. I think we had a really good shot at beating Sacred Heart, but we just came out really slow. It was a hard game to lose. I think I personally could have done a lot better, so hopefully this year will be different."

This season already is different, as Suiter has been in a new role.

"He has been an amazing team player," Menlo coach Jack Bowen said of Suiter. "Last year he was first team All-CCS. All-American. Led the team in scoring, assists and steals. And this year he has been just fine being No. 2 in goals, being No. 2 in steals and doing his role of feeding Ben (Hohl)."

During his career, Suiter has established himself as a player who draws attention. When teams pressure him on the outside, sophomore Ben Hohl has more room to score at the 2-meter position or junior Matt Hudnall winds up free. Suiter's calm presence allows him to find the open man and makes the Knights that more difficult to defend against.

"In the last three games, I can think of only one shot he took that he shouldn't have, that wasn't a good, patient shot," Bowen said.

Bowen was actually concerned about Suiter coming into the season, that his senior leader would have every reason to be complacent.

"You've got a kid like this, who's already into college (UCLA, with a baseball scholarship). He's got a baseball career. He's already an All-American. He could easily go, 'I'm going to get more goals.' But instead, he'd done exactly what you'd want of any of the players - playing as a team player. Awesome."

Suiter played that role perfectly in Tuesday's 10-3 semifinal win over Santa Cruz. He scored once and set up Hohl, who tallied six goals. Junior Travis Read added two goals and Hudnall scored once. St. Francis, however, should be a more difficult test for Menlo, which defeated the Lancers in their lone meeting this season - 8-4 in the semifinals of the St. Francis Tournament.

"They're the most similar team to us that I've seen," Bowen said. "They play very hard, so in a sense this will be a battle of will/heart as much as tactically."

The Knights, says Bowen, are prepared for the challenge.

"These guys are ready," he said. "The foundation that we have built the last six months to be ready for Saturday's game is tremendous. They've been peaking for the last three to four weeks. We are definitely playing our best right now. They have definitely earned the right to feel confident going into the last weekend of the season."

The Menlo girls and Gunn boys also should be brimming with confidence heading into their respective championship matches Saturday.

The girls' title match pits the No. 5 Knights (25-7) against No. 2 St. Francis (25-5), the four-time defending champions, at 11:45 a.m. at Independence High. Menlo advanced with a huge 6-5 triumph over No. 1 seed Sacred Heart Prep (21-5) while the Lancers ended Palo Alto's fine 25-7 season with a 13-7 triumph in Tuesday's other semifinal in the Lancers' pool.

Back-to-back goals by sophomores Kim Krueger and Whitney Allen pushed Menlo into a lead for good and earned the Knights their first title shot since losing to St. Francis in the 2002 finals, 9-8 in double overtime. The teams have met once this season, with Menlo posting a 5-1 win in the finals of the Amanda MacDonald Invitational.

The Gunn boys (24-10) also have met their CCS Division I championship opponent, Bellarmine, once before.

"We lost, 11-8, after being tied at half, and trailing by one at the end of the third quarter," Gunn coach Mark Hernandez said of the Bells (30-4), who will shoot for a seventh straight CCS Division I crown at 10 a.m. "What I like most about our team is that they're not going to roll over for anybody. They expect to win."

The No. 3-seeded Titans got what they expected in Wednesday's semifinal as they posted a 14-8 win over No. 2 Salinas. Junior Brandon Johnson led the way with five goals while senior Arjan Ligtenberg, still playing with an injured wrist, added three goals as did junior Kyle Gertridge.

"For us, there was more pressure in the first round," Hernandez said. "After that, we were the underdogs, as far as the seeds were concerned. We play much better when we play the role of world-beaters. Of course, we'll fit right into that role on Saturday.

"Bellarmine's success is no accident. They have waves of strong, fast, good, players. They're the deepest team in the section, and also the most disciplined. The secret to beating them is far easier to figure out than it is to implement: control the ball, take quality shots, and limit their counter-attacks. Bellarmine loves to punish mistakes, so the cleaner we play, the better chance we have. If we take bad shots, Bellarmine also loves to get out and swim down the other way, and can put teams away early."

Hernandez is proud of his team for a number of reasons, one being Gunn is the only public school left in the tournament.

"We take a lot of pride in that," he said. "Given our facilities and the fact that we play with the athletes that are given to us, I couldn't be more proud of our guys."

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