Before the start of the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League De Anza Division tournament, Los Gatos High girls water polo coach Don Appleton said the biggest joy of the season was seeing the multiple talents that developed which has made the team balanced and deep.
This was evident after the Wildcats went a perfect 4-0 to win the Tri-Valley Invitational at Amador Valley High two weekends ago, a tournament in which eight different players scored in two of those contests.
“Just seeing how many kids on the team are contributing has been the highlight of the season,” Appleton said. “These kids have come along to be real competitive and [in the last month] we’ve had a lot of sophomores playing really well, so that bodes well for the future and gives me more kids being reliable coming off the bench, which really helps for the postseason.”
Being multi-dimensional offensively has been a source of pride for Los Gatos this season, and that was put to a major test in a 6-2 win over Palo Alto High in the De Anza Division tournament championship match on Oct. 28. In perhaps the team’s most impressive performance of the season, the Wildcats (23-2) won despite Palo Alto holding Karly Frangieh—one of the most prolific scorers in Los Gatos program history—scoreless.
However, as a testament to show just how far her game has come, Frangieh still found a way to make a sizable impact, finishing with four steals and three assists. Ella Ralston and Julia Ernsting had two goals each to lead the way offensively, and goalie Rachel Stephens had 11 saves and three steals.
“I’m really excited about how the girls are playing,” Appleton said. “I’m going to be honest, the girls have kind of surprised me because we’re playing better water polo than I thought. We set out goals for each game and we don’t want just one to two players scoring. If we have five to six players scoring goals, that’s pretty hard to game plan for.”
Appleton has been pleased with the play of Frangieh and Karissa Elliott, two of the anchors of the team. Plenty of other players have starred as well. Appleton noted center Abby Lockman “has come a long way” and drawn a lot of exclusions, Ernsting’s Midas touch in facilitating the offense and Katie Nelson emerging for a breakout 2023 season.
In a 14-6 win over Castilleja in the league playoff semifinals, Frangieh tallied six goals, and Elliott and Ralston had two apiece. Four other players scored, including Bella Shedroff, Lockman, Ernsting and sophomore Brooke Cannon.
In terms of significance, the victory over Palo Alto was vital on a couple of fronts. Not only did it mean the Wildcats swept the regular-season and tournament titles for the second consecutive year, but it gave them a 2-1 advantage in the season series over the Vikings.
The teams split a pair of regular-season games, but Los Gatos proved its superiority in the tournament title match. It was a decisive result, as the Wildcats led 6-2 entering the final quarter of play. As one of the best teams in the Central Coast Section, Los Gatos received the No. 7 seed in the Open Division playoffs and plays No. 2 seed Leland High on Nov. 4 at 1pm at Menlo-Atherton High.
A Los Gatos victory would clinch a second straight berth into the CIF Northern California Regional playoffs. The CCS boasts five of the top 20 teams in the nation, according to Max Preps. Los Gatos is ranked No. 14 but three squads in the section are ahead of them: nationally-ranked No. 3 Sacred Heart Prep, No. 11 Leland and No. 13 Soquel.
“On any given day we can hang with anybody,” Appleton said. “Playing those top teams, we’ll have to play our better games of the year. But each of those teams has their own puzzles to solve. We just need to show up and play.”
Appleton’s admiration for the players on the team has grown as they have steadily improved, meeting and even exceeding expectations coming off a record-breaking 2022 season in which it went 28-3 and ran the table in the De Anza, the first time a school has done that in league history.This year’s team has established its own identity and looks to cement what has already been a tremendous season with a couple of more historic wins.