By Keith Peters
Palo Alto Online Sports
Members of the Menlo School girls' soccer team spent the final day of the 2012 season hugging each other. They smiled and they celebrated after winning the first Central Coast Section title in program history.
Many of those same players spent the final day of the 2013 season also hugging each other. But instead of smiles and celebration, there were tears and disappointment.
What appeared all season as a triumphant march back to the CCS Division III title game came crashing down on Wednesday as the Knights fell to Harbor in penalty kicks, 4-2, in semifinal action at Menlo-Atherton High.
Eighty minutes of regulation ended 0-0 while 20 additional minutes of overtime left the teams knotted at 1-1.
"It's frustrating," said Menlo coach Donoson FitzGerald, who did his best to say the right things to his players to take away the sting of the shocking defeat. "When you win, it's awesome. When you lose, it's a killer."
On paper, Harbor came in with a No. 6 seed while Menlo was a No. 2. When the teams took the field for the pre-game introductions, however, three Menlo starters -- senior Hannah Rubin, junior Lindsay Karle and sophomore Alexandra Walker -- were on crutches. And junior Jaye Boissiere, the team's top scorer last season, was in uniform but wearing flip flops, a sign she still wasn't ready after missing the entire season due to injury.
There were other injuries, as well, during a season where the Knights handled one adversity after another while winning the West Bay Athletic League title. This time, however, there were too many missing parts to keep the team running into the finals.
"We definitely had a bunch of injuries," said FitzGerald, who felt uncomfortable laying all the blame there. "It hurts, big time. But, we didn't play that well."
Menlo (13-3-6) had plenty of chances in the first 20 minutes of the match as jenior Amanda McFarland hit the crossbar, senior Maya Norman had a hard shot on goal and junior Chandler Wickers was foiled on a 1 v. 1 with the keeper.
In the second half, Harbor (8-6-7) become the aggressor and had four near-misses in the first 20 minutes while Wickers got a shot past the goalie that was deflected away at the last moment on a defender. Menlo freshman Elena Gray just missed a goal wide right and then junior Sienna Stritter was taken down just outside the penalty box, with the resulting free kick coming up empty.
Menlo turned up the head in the first OT period, with Wickers nearly scoring again on a 1 v. 1 with the keeper. Opportunities by both teams were missed and the second extra period started.
Harbor finally broke the ice when a shot in front of the goal deflected off the hands of Menlo freshman keeper Schuyler Tinley-Volk. The Knights, however, battled back and got the equalizer when junior Emma LaPorte found the back of the net after being moved up from fullback to forward. Menlo celebrated its second chance to win.
All the goal did, however, was send the match to penalty kicks. Despite having Tinley-Volk play the entire match in goal, FitzGerald went with senior Julia Dressel.
"She's the girl who we felt is best at stopping PKs," said FitzGerald.
Harbor started the PK session with a goal, but LaPorte's shot was blocked. The Pirates scored again, as did Wickers. Harbor made it 3-1 before Gray countered for 3-2. The Pirates pushed it to 4-2, leaving it up to senior Rachel Pinsker to keep the shootout going. Her shot, however, was blocked and the celebration began.
This time, however, it was the Harbor celebrating and not Menlo.
"Too bad we didn't play the entire game with the intensity and desire that we had in the first half," FitzGerald said. "We started the game well."
Harbor finished better.
Boys' Division III
For the first time ever, Menlo and Sacred Heart Prep will meet in a section championship match.
Both teams advanced to Saturday's finale at Oak Grove High in San Jose (3 p.m.) following semifinal victories Wednesday.
Fifth-seeded Sacred Heart Prep (18-2-3) got a goal from Brendan Spillane in the first half and made it stand up for a 1-0 victory over host and No. 9 seed Gilroy.
This will be the Gators' 15th appearance in a CCS title match, but only the first since they left the fall playoffs for the winter after the 2007 season. Since beginning play in the WBAL in 2008-09, SHP had failed to win a section match until this season.
The Gators won seven CCS titles in the fall and finished second seven other times. SHP coach Armando del Rio will be in his third title match, the two previous as a player in 1999 and 2000.
Menlo, meanwhile, is playing in its first title match ever after defeating No. 3 Harbor, 3-1, at Menlo-Atherton on Wednesday night.
The 10th-seeded Knights (15-5-3) have had a Cinderella run through the playoffs by beating No. 7 Burlingame and No. 2 Soledad before eliminating the Pirates (13-6-3).
"We came in really prepared," Menlo first-year coach Marc Kerrest said. "We knew what we were in for. We knew they'd be a great team, they're in the semifinals, but we liked our chances with our team playing well."
Menlo senior Max Parker, who is a captain along with goalie Timmy Costa and Andrew Schmitt, got the game rolling with a header in the 17th minute from a Ryan Karle assist.
"Max had a great game," said Kerrest. "He had struggled earlier with an injury, but he's clearly healthy and that made a huge difference."
Five minutes later, Harbor was awarded a penalty kick and Max Ehle equalized.
Shortly after, Karle scored the eventual winning goal. Menlo dominated the shots in the first half, but Costa made a beautiful save in the 25th minute, and the Knights closed the half ahead 2-1.
"Tim Costa has been huge for us back there all season," said Kerrest, whose Knights have outscored their opponents 43-16.
In the 71st minute, Parker tore down the right sideline, then fired a shot which hit the left post and bounced in for the final tally.