CUPERTINO — Second place in the Pacific Coast Athletic League Gabilan division, and a trip to the Central Coast Section semifinals.
Not bad for a team that returned only four players, and was posting help wanted signs for an open goalie spot before the season began.
“It was an amazing season,” said Aptos senior Kristen Malone. “I don’t think we really thought we were going to get this far in the beginning.”
“This far,” being the CCS Division II semifinal round. No. 4 Aptos, a team with more than a handful of first-time varsity players, concluded its season in an 8-4 loss to top-seeded The Menlo School at Homestead High on Tuesday.
Not much went according to plan for Aptos (19-6), as several shots flew high and wide, or thumped off the cross bar and goal posts.
Lapses in concentration on defense also hurt the Mariners, who fell behind 5-0 in the second quarter before senior Kelly Taylor finally got the team on the scoreboard off an assist from Malone.
Aptos rallied in the second half to make things interesting, but could not find the same offensive flow that powered the team over No. 5 The Harker School, 11-4, in the quarterfinal round.
Menlo (19-9) could have very well won by double digits, but senior goalie Bella Stephens kept Aptos in it with her heroics between the pipes.
She finished with eight saves, five of which came from point-blank range.
“Coming into the season we did not think we were going to make it to CCS… It was kind of a mess,” Stephens said. “I think not only myself, but our entire team has shown so much progress. As one of my coaches said, today was my best game, and I completely 100 percent agree.”
Aptos will say goodbye to nine seniors. The biggest losses: Jordan Wagner, Taylor and Malone. That trio combined for 180 goals this season, with Malone accounting for 80.
Stephens, a first-year goalie, will also leave the program along with Reina Garcia, Harlow Sairs, Gigi Schneiehert, Brystal Hume and Sophia Violich.
“I’m very proud of these girls,” said Aptos head coach Mark Knapp. “I feel bad for these seniors because this was their final game at the high school level, but that’s the way it is every year. Only one team is left standing.”
Malone finished her four-year varsity career with 162 goals, according to the stats kept on MaxPreps. Because of incomplete stats from previous seasons, Knapp could not say if Malone’s marks were program records, but he imagined they are both near the top.
“She had a fantastic year,” Knapp said of Malone.
And it seemed Menlo knew of Malone’s brilliance. Taylor and Wagner, too, saw increased coverage, as the Knights blotted out the Mariners’ high-scoring trio for most of the night.
Sophomore Jesse Chamberlain was the beneficiary. She scored a pair of goals in the second half to bring the Mariners within three, but the early deficit was too much to make up.
“I think they did their homework because [Wagner] and [Malone] were taken out of the ball game in many of the plays,” Knapp said. “They really knew how to crash in on them, and that made it tough for us. Some other girls tried to step up. Everyone gave it their best effort, but it just wasn’t happening tonight.”
It was an all too familiar ending for Aptos, as Menlo has eliminated the Mariners each of the last three seasons.
The Knights, six-time CCS champions, will play No. 3 Saratoga in Saturday’s D-II championship game.
“It’s frustrating to get all the way to this point, but I think the effort that we put in throughout the season has really paid off and that makes us feel better about where we are after this game,” Malone said.