In a season already full of big splashes for the Menlo-Atherton boys’ water polo team, the Bears proved they had at least one more surprise left in them.
No. 3 M-A shocked No. 2 St. Francis-Mountain View Tuesday night at Serra High School in the second Central Coast Section Division I semifinal 11-10. The Bears survived a late surge by the Lancers to pick up the win and stamp their ticket to Saturday’s championship match against No. 1 Bellarmine Prep.
"I don’t think anyone expected us to be in the final,” said M-A head coach Dante Dettamanti. "I’ve been working with these guys for three years ... and it all came together — all the stuff we’ve been preaching to these guys for the last three years. And it’s stuff you couldn’t get them to do all year during regular season games.”
"It means a lot,” said Harrison Holland-McCowan, who scored six goals in the win. "The last couple of years we’ve come up a little bit short of expectations. I think this year we really worked hard, [we have] great team chemistry, I love the guys and I think we’re blessed to be in this final game.”
A spot in the final was earned by a Menlo-Atherton offense that blitzed the St. Francis defense in quarters one through three and was near flawless on the exclusion. It was just enough of a push to hold off the Lancers.
"Our coach has been preaching movement,” Holland-McCowan said. "We didn’t do a traditional whole-man offense. We were driving a lot, getting open that way and I think that kind of took them by surprise. We were able to put the ball away.”
M-A jumped to a 4-3 lead after one quarter with the teams exchanging goals until Holland-McCowan’s pair helped M-A forge ahead 4-2 — the second of which came on a pretty lob over the St. Francis goalkeeper.
"All of sudden, they’re scoring goals on stuff we’ve worked and talked about,” Dettamanti said. "One thing, we knew this goalie like to really overplay one side and come out of goal. Those [lobs] are very effective. We tried to take advantage of that.”
The score stayed close through the second quarter thanks in large part to the efforts of Peter Berquist in the M-A cage. The second period saw No. 1 make a trio of remarkable saves that preserved the Bears’ lead. Holland-McCowan scored twice in the frame on a pair of nifty backhands while John Knox added another goal.
"He’s amazing,” Dettamanti said of Berquist and his eight saves.
Up 7-6, M-A got the push they needed in the third quarter.
First, a huge win on the sprint by Jake Bassin and subsequent timeout set up a an even bigger man-advantage situation and goal by Morgan Olson-Fabbro. The score fueled the Bears as they’d score three more, two by Holland-McCowan and one by Evan McClelland, before St. Francis found the back of the cage on the man-advantage. By then, the Bears were up 11-7.
"Harrison had a phenomenal game,” Dettamanti said. "He was just over the place. But we got tired in the fourth period.”
St. Francis tried to seize that window of opportunity and pulled to within one goal with 1:16 left in the game. After an M-A turnover, it took a big save by Berquist to keep the one-goal lead. The Lancer got one more possession with six seconds left in the game.
"To not let 14 shoot,” Berquist said asked what was going through his mind on St. Francis’ final play. "Don’t foul on the outside. Let them try to shoot from pressure, but don’t let them shoot off a foul. That’s not giving them the game, but it is giving them a good shot.
"We’re really excited with this win. We’ve worked hard all season. The team bonded so well and it just all came together in this game. The key to today was our offense. Everything just clicked and everyone just connected on their passes.”