By Sam Stack, Print Editor-in-Chief
With the sun breaking out of the clouds, the thermometer rising up, and the trees blossoming, it’s easy to tell spring is starting. But don’t let that distract from the fact that Acalanes winter sports had some of their most successful seasons ever.
So before you jump in the pool or lace up your lacrosse cleats, take a second to recognize the overwhelming success that Acalanes winter sports had this year.
It was the second period of extra time and parents and students alike were on the edge of their seats. They were currently sitting through the 98th minute of scoreless soccer in the North Coast Section (NCS) Championship.
The second seeded Acalanes Men’s Soccer team took on fifth seeded Montgomery High School at Acalanes on February 25. Both teams were mentally preparing for penalty kicks as Nick Schirmer stepped up for a throw in near the corner flag, a great location for a cross and a potential striking point for the Dons.
The throw went in and senior Gabe Singer’s header sent the ball intoto back of the net, giving the Dons the championship.
“I just tried to flick the ball toward the back and just turned around and saw the ball go in,” Singer said.
However, the journey wasn’t that simple. After dominating throughout the season with a 16-2-4 and winning the Diablo Athletic League (DAL) with a 9-1 record, the Dons earned the second seed in the NCS playoffs. Then, things took a turn.
In the first practice of the postseason, junior midfielder Alex Topping went down in practice with a non-contact leg injury. Topping would later be diagnosed with a broken fibula, meaning he’d be out for the post-season. The Dons then found out they’d be without senior fullback Tom Higgins for half the post-season due to a suspension. Along with that, junior center back Oliver Feigin would miss all of NCS with a back issue. But the Dons didn’t let that stop them.
“We have a wide depth of talent so for us, our subs can play well as the starters, if not better,” said senior midfielder Mark Von Hacht.
But the Dons battled through, easily defeating fifteen seeded Casa Grande in the first round 4-1. Then the Dons took on a tough league opponent in the next round, seven seeded Campolindo. But the Dons took down the Cougars 1-0 and went on to the semifinals to take on third seeded Richmond.
The Dons struck first with senior Drew Wondolowski hitting an improbable goal that barely reached the back of the net. The rest of the game remained largely uneventful until Richmond put one past junior goalkeeper Luke Denham at the end of regulation, an event that rarely happens with Denham in goal.
The game would go into extra time which consists of two 10 minute periods that are sudden death. With just four minutes left the Dons had a corner kick. While the initial attempt was unsuccessful, the ball ended up with senior midfielder Bryan Bamford. Bamford then found Singer who struck the ball past the goalkeeper and sent the Dons to the NCS championship.
“Everyone was super happy about getting there but we knew we still had one more game to play,” Singer said.
Then on a cold, frigid night in late February, the Dons took on Montgomery in the championship. The game was scoreless until Singer’s header in the 98th minute. The championship was the first title for the Dons since 2009.
The Dons came into the 2016-17 season with high hopes after returning three of their best wrestlers from last season. Seniors Tai White and Axel Jurgens and junior Jeremy Ridge all excelled this season.
“We did a great job, it was the best season in Acalanes history for wrestling,” Jurgens said.
Jurgens words come with merit as all three wrestlers placed in NCS. With Jurgens being 7th, White finishing 5th, and Ridge finishing 3rd. The best any Acalanes wrestler had ever placed was 8th and this season three wrestlers finished better than that. Along with that, Ridge’s third place finish, qualified him for the state championships.
Ridge finished in the top 12 at the California State Wrestling Championships in Bakersfield on March 4-5. He became the first Acalanes wrestler to ever win a match at the state championships. During the tournament he defeated the state’s 12, 13, 16, and 24th seeded wrestlers and lost in sudden death overtime victory to the 8th and 9th ranked wrestlers. He was also honored as one of the winners of the CIF Sportsmanship “Pursuing Victory with Honor” Award.
But the individuals didn’t just stand out as the Dons won every single dual meet as well. The future looks bright as the Dons are returning many athletes including Ridge.
After their 2nd place finish in NCS last season, the Lady Dons returned 6 seniors and were poised for more success. The Lady Dons received the third seed in this years NCS bracket.
The Lady Dons took down 14 seed Rancho Cotate in the first round 64-52 and faced 6 seed Redwood in the second round. The game turned out to be a barn burner.
Seniors Sabina Patel and Emma Godfrey both fouled out in the fourth quarter and the Dons went back and forth with Redwood. But the Lady Dons escaped with a 69-67 victory after stellar defense by senior Naomi House who blocked two shots late in the fourth and clutch free throws by seniors Roni Marrone and Brooke Panfili.
The Lady Dons had to travel to 2 seeded Montgomery High School for the semifinals and unfortunately lost 53-50 on a late shot by Montgomery.
The Lady Dons qualified for the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) state playoffs and faced a very tough 6 seeded Modesto Christian team in the first round. Unfortunately they couldn’t pull it out. falling 70-41, ending their season.
“Playing for the past four seasons was one of the best experiences of my life and I never thought I would get so close to a group of girls. I can honestly say they’re some of my best friends,” Patel said. “I’ve loved every minute of it.”