His team had just got done dropping an 11-9 decision at Bellarmine, but Menlo boys water polo coach Jack Bowen felt caught up in the unusual nature of his team’s season.
“What a quirky season,’’ Bowen said. “It’s just so odd to go two weeks without training. We’re running a new offense and we haven’t had time to practice it.’’
The bad air from the North Bay fires, which kept the team out of the pool all last week, combined with a steady stream of league and tournament games prevented the Knights from getting any practice sessions in over the last two weeks.
And local high school teams may not be out of the bad-air woods yet. Fires that began near Boulder Creek in the Santa Cruz Mountains contributed to the Serra at St. Francis water polo match being postponed on Tuesday.
Bowen said the Air Quality Index at Menlo was over 150, meaning the game could not have been played there. But at Bellarmine the AQI was under 100, a safe reading for an outdoor athletic contest.
Menlo and Bellarmine will likely be seeded second and third behind Sacred Heart Prep in the inaugural Central Coast Section Open Division water polo playoffs. Menlo has a leg up on the No. 2 seed, but Bellarmine, with the win Tuesday, has narrowed the gap by evening the season series at 1-1.
“It’s tricky,’’ Bellarmine coach Colin Mello said. “They’ve already beaten us so it comes down to common opponents. I’m just happy to get a quality win against a quality opponent.’’
Prior to the beginning of the game Bowen characterized the match as a must-win for Bellarmine. And the Bells came out playing that way, jumping out to an early lead and never trailing.
Menlo was down 6-3 at halftime, but came out strong in the third quarter, pulling to within 6-5 on goals by Miller Geschke and Niko Bhatia.
Then, after the Bells made it 7-5, goals by Maxwell Patterson and Connor Enright brought the Knights even at 7-7 with 2:04 left in the third quarter. But Menlo was not able to take the lead.
“I love how this group was willing to fight back,’’ Bowen said. “This team is a tremendous group of guys, smart guys, a hard-playing group.’’
But after Bellarmine went ahead again, 9-7 at the end of the third quarter, Menlo never seemed to find the shot opportunities to make a run at the Bells in the fourth quarter.
“We didn’t shoot very well,’’ Bowen said. “Their goalkeeper was very good and made us take some off-balance shots. They did a good job of filling the shooting lanes.’’
Sam Untrecht led Menlo with three goals. Geschke and Enright had two apiece.