Thus, the next few weeks should be pretty interesting as teams jockey for league titles and Central Coast Section playoff berths.
Speaking of interesting, the West Bay Athletic League boys' race certainly fits that description with Sacred Heart Prep and Menlo School nearly identical in every way. Prior to Wednesday's first of two showdowns this season, the Gators and Knights had the same league and overall records.
That has changed, following Sacred Heart Prep's 1-0 victory. The Gators came into this season never having lost to Menlo in the WBAL. That streak remains intact as the Gators took over sole possession of first place.
The Gators improved to 6-0 in league (9-2-1 overall) while the Knights fell to 5-1 (8-3-1). SHP is 7-0-2 against Menlo since both teams began WBAL play in 2009. Prior to that, the Knights competed in the Peninsula Athletic League and the Gators played in the PSAL's fall schedule.
Sacred Heart Prep's Andrew Segre provided the winning goal in the 27th minute, taking a pass from Robert Hellman and dodging an onrushing Menlo keeper Tim Costa, before finding the back of the net in an open cage.
"I was happy with our intensity and team attitude, and while we moved the ball and touched the ball with more ease, I felt we were too tense," said SHP coach Armando del Rio. "We are capable of playing at a faster tempo with the ball on the ground. When we combined quickly and decisively on the ground, we created.
"In the second half, they sent more numbers forward, and they are capable of creating havoc off of loose balls and set pieces. I was proud of our fierce defending as a team, our goalie (Hugo Sanchez) and our backline. I thought we managed the lead well through unnerving moments. Our experience and character prevailed."
Despite coming into the game tied for first, Menlo was shorthanded with a number of injuries. Standout freshman Andrew Arnold, for example, suffered a skiing injury last weekend during a school trip and landed in a Reno hospital. Two other Menlo players were sidelined by concussions. Bottom line, the Knights were not at full strength and first-year coach Marc Kerrest had to bring players up from the JV squad..
"I know they were missing a key starter (Andrew) Schmitt, but we also had a starter out with mono and players sick," del Rio said. "Last week the flu went through us like a plague and now it's the cold. So one of our mottos is next man up because we trust our players to make an impact when called upon, and our ethos is win the day, live/play/enjoy/focus on the current moment. We can't worry who we have or don't have and the same for the opponent because right now illness and injury is present for all."
Despite all the health and injury problems, Menlo started strongly and had a chance to take the lead in the opening minutes. Junior John Strong took the ball past several SHP defenders down the left wing, but his cross was just in front of senior captain Max Parker.
From there SHP took control of the first half, dominating possession and winning countless loose balls in midfield. After getting the winning goal, midway through the half, Sacred Heart Prep controlled the rest of the half and was unfortunate not to add to its tally.
The Knights came out with renewed vigor in the second half. They had a few good chances after three successive corner kicks, but Sanchez was solid in the cage. Menlo senior Ryan Karle nearly evened the match a few minutes later with a solid volley, but again Sanchez was up to the task.
"Menlo has a great team," del Rio said. "It was a competitive game and it will be again at our place. To us, every league game is a big game and a rivalry because everyone plays us with everything. It's why league play is tough and why we must always move on, win the day, and live out our ethos, because we must always be sharp and at our best."
In the SCVAL El Camino Division, host Palo Alto opened the second half of league play as it did the first half with a 2-0 victory over Monta Vista on Wednesday. The Vikings moved to 4-1-1 in league for 13 points (8-3-2 overall) and remained in third place, one point out of second. Fremont has a near-insurmountable lead with 21 points (7-0).
Monta Vista controlled the ball early in the first half before giving up a quick counter to Paly senior Chris Meredith, who picked up a loose ball and dribbled past a Monta Vista defender before facing a one-on-one with the keeper and scoring.
Paly keeper Tony Maharaj twice deflected shots away from inside the penalty box early in the second half. Senior Kirby Gee made it a 2-0 match in the 33rd minute on an assist from Meredith.
In the PAL Bay Division, Menlo-Atherton lost a share of first place following a 2-0 loss at San Mateo in a battle between last season's co-champs. The victory gave the Bearcats 11 points in league and left the Bears (3-2-1, 6-3-2) with 10.
A year ago, Menlo School was trying to find a way to win its first WBAL (Foothill Division) title. The Knights were successful.
Now, Menlo is working toward finding a way to defend it. On Tuesday, the Knights were successful in taking a very big step toward doing just that.
Getting three-second half goals, host Menlo opened a four-point lead over second-place Sacred Heart Prep with a 3-1 victory. The Knights improved to 5-0 in league (7-2-4 overall) heading into a home match against Priory on Thursday while the Gators fell to 3-1-2 (7-2-3).
"It was big," Menlo coach Donoson FitzGerald said of the first of two head-to-head meetings with the neighborhood rival. "It's Prep versus Menlo. They (the Gators) played well. We had our hands full."
Menlo played without senior goalies Julia Dressel and Kelly McConnell, both sidelined by concussion symptoms. Junior striker Jay Boissiere also remains sidelined by injury and has yet to play this season. Freshman Elena Gray missed the match and sophomore Alexandra Walker is facing knee surgery at any time, Still, she plays on.
That's sort of the attitude Menlo has this season after reaching all of its goals last season — winning the WBAL title (its first league crown since 1991) and its first-ever outright CCS Division III crown. The Knights will do whatever it takes to repeat 2012.
"We still have a lot of work to do," FitzGerald said. "But, we're in a good spot right now."
The Knights sat atop the Foothill Division with 15 points before the Priory match while the second-place Gators have 11.
Sacred Heart Prep grabbed a 1-0 halftime lead following a goal by senior Taylor Ruegg with about 14:25 left.
The Knights came out after intermission with a determination that paid off when Walker pounced on a loose ball in the penalty box following a corner kick by Chandler Wickers and finished it for a 1-1 match.
With 16:40 left in the match, Menlo junior Sienna Stritter took advantage of another loose ball after Wickers' corner and headed it in for the eventual winning goal.
Menlo picked up an insurance goal with just under 2:00 to play after Walker knocked a shot off the crossbar. The ball bounced around and eventually got to senior Rachel Pinsker, who ripped a shot from 35 yards out over the reaching SHP keeper Blair Hamilton.
Menlo 5-foot-10 1/2 freshman keeper Schuyler Tilney-Volk came up big, making a couple difficult saves to maintain Menlo' 2-1 lead — including a long free kick by SHP scoring leader Kendall Jager in the second half. Tilney-Volk finished the game with nine saves.
Jager played despite reportedly suffering dizzy spells the night before, necessitating a visit to the hospital. She was held scoreless as Menlo's Amanda McFarland marked her well throughout the match. SHP has a number of players injured, as well.
Menlo's defense of Hannah Rubin, Pinsker, Walker, McFarland, Jamie Corley and Lizzie Lacy was instrumental in the victory.
Priory took on Menlo after playing to a 1-1 deadlock with Castilleja on Tuesday, leaving them 1-1-3 in league (2-3-5 overall).
In the SCVAL El Camino Division, Palo Alto remained in first place following a 2-0 victory over second-place Santa Clara on Wednesday on the Bruins' field.
The Vikings, who played to a 1-1 deadlock with Santa Clara in their first meeting, improved to 6-0-1 (7-4-2) for 19 points while the Bruins fell back to 4-1-2 and 14 points. Palo Alto now has scored 32 goals in its six division wins.
Paly outshot Santa Clara 9-1 in the first half, which ended scoreless. After intermission, Sunny Lyu took a pass from Aoi Sugihara and found the net from 25 yards out. Nine minutes later, Nina Kelty made it a 2-0 game. Paly keeper Erin Chang made the shutout stand up with some solid play.
In the SCVAL De Anza Division, Gunn ended a five-match losing streak with a 1-1 deadlock with host Monta Vista. The Titans are now 0-6-1 in league (1-8-3 overall).
In the PAL Bay Division, junior Sabiha Viswanathan provided an unassisted goal in the second half to lift host Menlo-Atherton to a 1-0 victory over San Mateo. The Bears (4-2, 6-4-2) remained tied for third place with Burlingame, just one point behind second-place Carlmont (4-1-1) and four points behind division leader Woodside (5-0-1).
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