Given the suspension of athletics in the county, the Daily Journal decided to dive into our 20-year archives to bring readers some of our favorite stories over the years.
Feb. 27, 2017, PALO ALTO — It was only the first round of the Central Coast Section Open Division soccer playoffs, but when the final whistle sounded Saturday afternoon, the Menlo-Atherton girls celebrated as if they won the championship.
Why all the excitement? The fourth-seeded Bears, who won the Division I crown last season, were among the hottest teams in bracket, having won 15 straight games and who featured one of the most potent offenses in the section.
Facing them, however, was a fourth-seeded and undefeated Palo Alto squad that had allowed only one goal all season long, and that coming in the second game of the season. The Vikings were riding an 18-game unbeaten streak.
In the end, however, it was M-A’s “Big Three” of Katie Guenin, Diana Morales and Josephine Cotto who trumped the Vikings’ impregnable defense to the tune of a 3-0 victory.
“I didn’t see this coming,” Palo Alto coach Kurt Devlin said. “They found their key players.”
The Bears did against Palo Alto (14-1-4) what they have been doing to a majority of teams all season long: they got an early first-half goal and then added on in the second half, striking for two more in the stunning upset of the Vikings.
“We just wanted to have a good performance,” M-A coach Jason Luce said.
The Bears will need another special performance if they are to advance to their second straight section final. M-A (16-3-1) will now face top-seeded Mitty (16-2-3) in a semifinal game at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday at Westmont High School in Campbell. The Monarchs beat No. 8 Salinas 3-0 in their first-round game.
About the only thing M-A lost in the game was the time of possession battle as the Vikings controlled the ball for the bulk of the game. But the Bears proved there are ways of beating teams other than consistent possession. When the Bears did get the ball, they wasted little time in going on the attack, using a direct, over-the-top approach to get their lethal strikers into space.
“That was a bit of our game plan,” Luce said. “We put a lot of good pressure on their back line. Let’s force them (the Vikings’ defense) to be great today.”
Guenin, who came in as M-A’s leading scorer, was held out of the net by a concerted defensive effort from Palo Alto. So Guenin simply went from scorer to helper as she had a foot in all three goals. With the Vikings focused on not letting Guenin beat them, it opened up her teammates, who, when given the chance, prove to be just as deadly finishing as Guenin.
“It’s hard to stop her in all facets. You can’t stop everything about her,” Luce said. “She’s definitely our star player, but we have a lot of talent around her.”
After weathering a strong start by Palo Alto, M-A stunned everyone with a ninth-minute, against-the-run-of-play goal, scoring on its first shot of the game. Morales ran past the Palo Alto defensive line to chase down a through ball. The Vikings recovered and just before dispossessing the ball from Morales, she used a slide to slice a pass back to the top of the box where it found Guenin with her back to the goal and a defender on her back. Instead of trying to bull her way through, she laid off a back pass to an onrushing Cotto, who let loose a shot from 25 yards out.
It wasn’t a rocket of a shot, but what it lacked in velocity she made up for with pin-point accuracy. The goalkeeper was frozen and the ball nestled into the far right corner of the net.
It was the first goal allowed by Palo Alto since a 2-1 win over Gunn on Dec. 1.
“That was a big goal for us. We knew their record,” Luce said. “To get one against them early proves that we could do it.”
Palo Alto, meanwhile, continued to control the midfield for the rest of the half, but could not muster much in the final third against M-A’s underrated defense. While the Vikings managed to fire off eight shots in the first half, only three were on frame and nearly all of them came from outside the penalty box.
The Bears had only three shots, but one found the back of the net and another rolled agonizingly wide on attempts by Morales.
In the second half, it was more of the same: Palo Alto controlling the ball and M-A getting a bulk of the scoring opportunities. The Bears had four shots in the second half — two goals and two near misses.
M-A doubled its lead in the 56th minute. Again, a ball was served over the top of the Palo Alto defense, where Guenin and Morales were running on goal. Guenin drew a double team and as the ball dropped over her shoulder, she touched it into space for a wide open Morales, who took a couple of touches before hammering her shot to the far right corner for a 2-0 lead.
“[Morales] was a catalyst for them,” Devlin said.
Morales had two more golden scoring chances fall by the wayside, but the Bears iced the win in the 76th minute. Guenin chased a ball down the left sideline, gained the end line, beat her defender and made a run at goal. As another defender stepped up to shut her down, Guenin found a wide open Margaret Child stationed in the middle of the box, who also found the right corner for a 3-0 M-A advantage.
“They (the Vikings) are a solid team. I knew we’d have to do something special and we did,” Luce said.