The Sacred Heart Prep boys have won four straight Central Coast Section Division II water polo championships. The top-seeded Gators (21-7) are hoping to make it five straight after sinking No. 4 Valley Christian, 16-7, in a semifinal on Wednesday at Bellarmine Prep.
Also advancing to Saturday's championship match at Independence High at 11:30 a.m. is No. 2 Menlo School (18-11), which advanced with a 9-5 semifinal win over No. 3 St. Ignatius.
The Knights have lost the past two CCS finals to SHP and five of the eight meetings when they've met for the championship. Someone who has never been a part of Menlo's CCS history could change the Gators' recent success story.
That would be Brazilian junior goalie Tiago Bonchristiano, who had 19 saves against SI and who has never faced SHP -- this being his first season with the Knights.
His family members may be on the other side of another America and it was just after 2 a.m. Thursday, but Bonchristiano sent another message to Sao Paulo, making sure they know that Menlo is headed to the section championship.
"We practiced really hard, we saw them play over the weekend, and were really focused on SI," Bonchristiano said. "We had a talk on the bus (to San Jose) to play as a family, to play hard, to help the others. I feel like even though I didn't know them at the beginning of the season, they are my brothers."
Senior co-captain Chris Xi and freshman Sam Untrecht each recorded a hat trick, and Bonchristiano had 19 saves and four assists for Menlo. Xi was named the PAL Bay Division Most Valuable Player this week with Bonchristiano receiving Most Valuable Goalie honors.
Senior James Thygesen, sophomore Miller Geschke and sophomore Jayden Kunwar were named to the first team with Untrecht named to the second team. Sophomore Niko Bhati received honorable mention.
"There were a couple of front-court defense and offenses and defending their plays that I turned to our bench and said, 'Wow, all six guys did exactly what they're supposed to be doing -- so that's the exciting thing," Menlo coach Jack Bowen said. "The area where we could really improve is our energy level, our explosiveness and our reaction speed . . . We weren't completely on, but we ran our system perfectly."
The Knights took an early lead with Xi scoring his first goal less than a minute in. Fellow captain Thygesen put the Knights ahead again at 4:48 and the Knights never looked back. Kunwar added another at 2:58, and Untrecht scored his first of three goals with 1:23 left in the first.
"At this point in our season, we've got a good system going," Bowen said. "At the beginning of the season, it was a little rocky because it was all new to us: our counterattack, our defense was new, our plays, really, almost everything was new. We ran the X's and O's almost perfectly and I hardly ever say that about a sport. Sports just aren't perfect, so that's the exciting thing to me."
Xi had assuring words for the Knights in the pre-match huddle: Trust in the system, trust in your team and trust in yourself.
Bonchristiano, a Brazilian junior national team goalie, said it's now instinct to trust in his team.
"Even though I have a lot of friends here, the water polo team is my family," he said. "I am with them all the time in school, in the water all the time."
And his family back home is with him every stroke of the way.
"Every day, they send me a message, 'How was practice today?' Bonchristiano said. "Even today before the game, they said send me a note saying how it was and they like to hear from me -- they're always supporting me."
Sacred Heart Prep, meanwhile, also has a standout junior goalie in JC Marco. He was ill on Wednesday and did not play. But, sophomore Alexander Nemeth was more than capable to handle Valley Christian and did so with 11 saves.
Senior Finn Banks, sophomore Alex Tsotadze and freshman Andrew Churukian each had three goals with Banks adding four assists. The Gators jumped to a 4-0 lead after one quarter and made it 8-3 by the half against a WCAL foe that SHP had defeated during the regular season.
Girls water polo
Fifth-seed Palo Alto (16-13) saw its season end in a 12-5 loss to top-seeded Leland (19-9) in a Division I semifinal Wednesday at Gunn High.
Sophomore Sophie Frick tallied three goals for the Vikings with seniors Alina Drebin and Gigi Rojahn adding one each. The teams were tied at 1 following the first period, but the Chargers pulled away with eight goals total over the next two periods.
Palo Alto will lose only three other seniors -- Katie Francis, Claire Drebin and Caitlin Giffen -- while returning 12.
Second-seeded Los Gatos defeated No. 3 Los Altos, 4-3, in a battle between SCVAL De Anza Division foes. The Wildcats will face Leland in the finals at 1 p.m.
Menlo-Atherton and Menlo School have returned to CCS championship matches on Saturday at Independence High in San Jose. The Bears would like a repeat of last year while the Knights hope for a different outcome.
Third-seeded Menlo-Atherton (23-7) will face No. 5 Carlmont (27-8) in the Division I finals at 4:30 p.m. The teams faced each other twice during the PAL Bay Division season with each squad winning once.
The defending champion Bears, seeking their third title in four years, roll into the finals off a solid 25-20, 25-21, 25-7 victory over No. 2 San Benito (30-7) on Wednesday at Piedmont Hills High in San Jose.
Senior Leanna Collins had 11 kills (.400 hitting), junior setter Kirby Knapp dished 46 assists plus 14 digs, junior Alexa Roumeliotis added 26 digs and junior Jacqueline DiSanto finished with 11 kills and 23 digs.
In Belmont, Menlo School returned to the Division IV finals for the first time since winning the crown in 2013 after defeating WBAL Foothill Division rival Harker, 23-25, 25-22, 25-18, 25-18, at Notre Dame-Belmont.
Menlo (22-6), the No. 2 seed, faces top seed Notre-Dame Belmont (27-10) in the title match Saturday at Independence High at 12:30 p.m. The Tigers eliminated No. 5 Sacred Heart Prep (20-11) in the other semifinal, 25-13, 25-13, 25-7.
Menlo, which lost last year's CCS semifinal to ND-Belmont when Maddie Stewart was sidelined by an injury, has Stewart back. She had a match-high 12 kills against Harker. Kristin Sellers added 28 assists and Payton Mack had 4 1/2 blocks.