By Keith Peters
Palo Alto Online Sports
A year ago, the Menlo School girls' soccer team was trying to find a way to win its first West Bay Athletic League (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 in WBAL Foothill Division. The Knights improved to 5-0 in league (7-2-4 overall) 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 Boissierre 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 Central Coast Section 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 sit atop the Foothill Division with 15 points 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 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.
Menlo's defense of Hannah Rubin, Pinsker, Walker, McFarland, Jamie Corley and Lizzie Lacy was instrumental in the victory.
Menlo won't have much time to celebrate as the Knights host always dangerous Priory on Thursday at 2:45 p.m. The Panthers will be coming off a 1-1 deadlock with Castilleja on Tuesday, leaving them 1-1-3 in league (2-3-5 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).
Menlo-Atherton will visit Woodside on Thursday (4 p.m.) in a match that could shake up the division standings.
Eastside Prep remained tied for first place in the WBAL Foothill Division following a 64-40 victory over host Castilleja on Tuesday.
The Panthers (4-1, 13-5) raced to a 20-9 first-quarter lead behind senior Hashima Carothers, who scored a season-high 30 points.
Castilleja (0-5, 3-15) was led by Paige Vermeer's 21 points while teammate Yasmeen Afifi had a career-high five blocks with seven rebounds and seven points.
In San Francisco, Sacred Heart Prep remained a game back of the Foothill Division leaders following a 30-28 victory over defending champ Mercy-San Francisco. The Gators (3-2, 15-4) trailed by four after one quarter before slowly pulling away. Sisters Meghan and Melissa Holland combined for 19 points to lead SHP, which won its third straight after opening WBAL play with back-to-back losses.
Menlo School held on to a share of first place in the WBAL with a 73-35 romp over host Crystal Springs. Jack Heneghan scored 21 points as the Knights improved to 5-1 (9-7 overall) with their fifth-straight win while allowing just 11 second-half points.
In Sunnyvale, Priory snapped a three-game losing streak with a 49-47 win over host King's Academy. The Panthers (2-3, 5-7) got 13 points from Andy Dolezalek in the victory, helped by a big 21-point third quarter.
In San Jose, Harker remained tied for first following a 59-32 win over visiting Eastside Prep (1-5, 9-6). DaeVon Bishop had 10 points to lead the visitors.
In the SCVAL El Camino Division, the Wilcox at Gunn game was not reported.