Zoe Banks still has the autographed picture she received from Betsey Armstrong, an Olympian and the most decorated goalie in international women's water polo when she retired in 2014. It reminds her of the time she officially became a goalie.
Banks, a senior at Gunn High, is one of the best girls' water polo goalies in the Central Coast Section this year and there are many people who would put her on top of the list.
There are several female goalies in the area who have received praise, including Castilleja senior Georgia Lewis, Woodside's Maya Srinivasan and newcomers Nellie McAdams of Sacred Heart Prep and Gillian Bressie of Menlo.
Banks' high school coach, Mark Hernandez, described her as the complete package. She's tall, lanky, has the wingspan of an eagle and the fluidity of a cat.
She works hard, listens to coaches and has a quirky, teddy bear-like personality that seems to exude confidence in her teammates. Her smile is infectious and spreads quickly.
"We know if we drop we can depend on her," Titans Cooper McKenna said.
Hernandez said Banks covers mistakes and allows the team to take chances at both ends of the pool.
Gunn (16-11) received the seventh seed for the first-ever CCS Open Division, though there's no guarantee of advancement into the first-ever Northern California tournament.
The Titans need to win at least once to advance and they'll be significant underdogs to No. 2 seed Soquel (22-4) when they meet at Aptos High at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Also in the Open Division, 10-time defending Division II champion Sacred Heart Prep (19-7) will not get the chance at No. 11. Instead the third-seeded Gators will look to start a different streak when they take on No. 6 Los Gatos (20-3) at 2:30 p.m. at Menlo-Atherton.
Fifth-seeded Castilleja (21-6) plays No. 4 St. Francis at 4 p.m. at Mountain View.
In Division I, fourth-seeded Menlo-Atherton (10-13) plays at Palo Alto (10-17) at 5:30 p.m. and in Division II, third-seeded Menlo (13-12) plays at No. 6 Aptos at 2:30 p.m.
If there's one game you need to win, having Banks in the net is a good start. She's played in the USA national program and gotten advice from a lot of different coaches, including her idol.
"At the start of sixth grade I unexpectedly got the chance to play with the national development team," Banks said. "I put expectations on myself and wanted to get to the next level."
It was while with the developmental team that she came across Armstrong, already Banks' favorite, on a trip to Michigan.
"I always tried to watch her games whenever possible," Banks said. "It was crazy. I was getting tips from her and then the signed picture. It was surreal. It was about then I knew I was best suited for goalie."
She played in the field as a freshman and then assumed goalie duties the past three years.
Menlo coach Jack Bowen, who worked with Banks at the Stanford water polo club team, called her "a national caliber athlete and a person with a unique approach."
Boys water polo
Sacred Heart Prep goalie Alexander Nemeth enjoyed a fruitful summer and has come into his own with the Gators.
Nemeth, who was named co-MVP, with Menlo-Atherton's Noah Smith, of the 16U National Junior Olympics over the summer, will lead SHP into the opening round of the Open Division as the top seed.
The Gators (21-4) meet Serra (14-10) on Saturday at Menlo-Atherton at 4 p.m.
Sacred Heart Prep has not lost to a CCS team this year and that includes wins over second-seeded Bellarmine (13-9) and third-seeded Menlo (18-6).
The Knights, with up-and-coming goalie Josh Poulos, open against host M-A (16-9) at 7 p.m.
Gunn (16-11) is the top seed in Division I and will meet San Benito (16-10) at M-A at 5:30 p.m.
The Titans rely on goalie Adrian Lee, also one of the top badminton players in the section.
Defending state Division IV champion Menlo (28-4) is the fifth seed in the Open Division and will travel to Sacred Heart Cathedral (21-10) for an opening round match at 7 p.m. Saturday.
The Knights, who were seeded eighth in last year's tournament, has a variety of options in its offensive looks. Grace King and Ashley Dreyer have been dominant at the net and Kristin Sellers, who shares setting duties with Selina Xu, has also been a force.
Sixth-seeded Palo Alto (23-3) opens at No. 3 St. Francis (19-11) at 1 p.m. Saturday.
The Vikings rely on Chelsea Fan for a lot of its offense but she's not the only threat. Amelia Gibbs, Denise Ringwalt, Avery Wooten and Isabella Marcus have also been effective.
Top-seeded Sacred Heart Prep (22-7) takes on West Bay Athletic League rival Mercy-Burlingame (20-13) in Saturday's Division IV quarterfinal at 7 p.m. at Spieker Pavilion on the Sacred Heart Schools' campus.
Cate Desler has eye-popping numbers at outside hitter and Ally Polverari is another who can produce big numbers at the net. Seniors Caroline Caruso (libero) and Haley Martella (setter) add leadership.
A nerve-wracking afternoon turned into a celebration when it became clear Palo Alto had clinched the Central Coast Section title Tuesday at Laguna Seca Golf Ranch in Monterey County.
"The girls were watching, figuring out what we would need to win," Paly coach Doyle Knight said. "As the next group of players came in they would wait intensely to see the scores posted and updated."
The Vikings combined for a round of 391, ahead of St. Francis' 396 and ending the Lancers' three-year stranglehold on the CCS tournament.
The Vikings became the first public school to win a second CCS title, and their first since 2013 (391-395 over St. Francis). Menlo-Atherton, in 2002, is the only other public school with a title.
"Our two freshmen (Madison Pineda and Marina Mata) were key this year," Knight said. "We lost six seniors from last year's team and to have freshmen come in to fill those spots was big. They were very poised for the situation they were in. "
Palo Alto, St. Francis and Valley Christian advance to Monday's NorCal tournament to be held at Sierra View CC in Roseville.
Castilleja's Divya Tadimeti and Menlo's Sophie Siminoff also advance as individuals.
Tadimenti shot a 72, placing second behind medalist Sabrina Iqbal of Pioneer, who shot a 69. Siminoff tied for fourth with Palo Alto's Stephanie Yu and Valley Christian's Quynn Duong with a 74.
The Palo Alto girls cross country team, without one of its top runners, won its first SCVAL El Camino Division title in 12 years Tuesday at Crystal Springs and qualified for the Central Coast Section meet on Saturday, Nov. 11 at Toro Park in Salinas.
Gunn's Joyce Shea won the individual title but the Vikings won the title led by Julie Meng and Kai Douglas, who placed fourth and fifth. Senior Julia Doubson was unable to run due to illness. She is expected to be ready for the CCS meet.
Gretchen Berndt, Miranda Jimenez and Audrey Lemoine also scored for Palo Alto. Charlotte Kim and Zoe Douglas also ran.
The Palo Alto boys were missing two of their better runners but a dramatic finish by Sam Craig, who raced 15:29 to out-sprint Los Altos' Owen Mackenzie, sparked a second-place finish and a spot in the CCS.
With top runner Henry Saul out with an illness and Reed Foster missing the race with an injury, it was left to Craig and his teammates to summon the energy to qualify for the next race.
Donald Taggart, Aashai Avadhani, John Tayeri and Matias Sama scored for the Vikings.