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November 04, 2005

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Publication Date: Friday, November 04, 2005

Fast and furious Fast and furious (November 04, 2005)

On doorstep of CCS, St. Francis boys and girls water polo notch WCAL wins

By Scott Campbell

In an afternoon twin bill, the St. Francis boys and girls water polo teams cruised to easy first-round wins in the West Catholic Athletic League Playoffs on Nov. 1. The boys defeated Valley Christian 13-8 in a contest nowhere near as close as the final score might indicate, while the girls scored early and often in a 12-2 victory over Notre Dame-Belmont.

Coming off a grueling weekend in which they split four games in the Tru West Tournament against some of California's premier teams -- and missing leading-scorer Mark Soares, sidelined with a cold -- the No. 3 seed St. Francis boys started slowly.

No. 6 seed Valley Christian got on the board first when Matt Smith lobbed a shot over Lancers goalie Scottie Hvidt's fingertips one minute into the game.

St. Francis (19-11 overall) took a 2-1 lead by the end of the first quarter thanks to goals by driver Travis Bickham and utility player Bo Thede, but it wasn't until the second quarter that the Lancers' offense started clicking.

Then the goals came fast and furious.

First Bickham found Brian Benedetti wide open on the left side of the cage for an easy score. Then Hvidt initiated a strong St. Francis counterattack that resulted in a Benedetti-to-Nick Schultz goal.

After a steal by Lancers sophomore Tom Avery, Bickham connected with Thede across the Warriors' defense. Goal.

And finally, Avery took a deep pass from Hvidt to carom the ball off Warriors goalie Jonathon Langdon's fingertips and into the net.

Four goals in less than two minutes -- 6-1 Lancers. And the game was all but over.

"Once we got in sync, I thought we played really well," said St. Francis boys coach Terry O'Donnell. "Once you start setting each other up, it's a pretty easy game."

The Lancers steamrolled to a 12-3 third-quarter lead before calling off the dogs. Only five harmless goals by the Warriors (12-19) in the fourth quarter made the final result more respectable.

Thede and Avery led St. Francis with three goals each, while Bickham and Schultz both scored twice.

The St. Francis girls, meanwhile, had no problem revving up their offense from the get-go.

Behind four goals in the first nine minutes from sophomore hole set Kim Benedetti, the No. 2 seed Lancers jumped on the No. 7 seed Tigers early and never let up.

St. Francis (16-7 overall) used a lock-down defense to limit Notre Dame-Belmont to just 10 shots, while the versatile Lancers' offense generated 25 attempts and produced goals from eight different players.

After graduating 13 players from last season's CCS runner-up team, the 2005 Lancers had to work a number of inexperienced and younger players into the rotation. While that made for a rough start to the season for a team that has played in an incredible seven consecutive CCS title games, the payoff appears to be coming at the right time.

"We really feel we can play with anybody," said Lancers junior Jenna Gunderson, a utility player who contributed a goal, an assist and a steal to the win.

"Now, they're veterans," said St. Francis girls coach Brendon Reutebuch of his young squad. "They have a season under their belt and they're ready to go into the championships. We hope that's enough to get us to the promised land, back to the championship."

With both St. Francis teams advancing to the WCAL semifinals on Nov. 4, the Voice went to press before their opponents could be determined. But with the CCS brackets to be announced on Nov. 6, their wishes were quite clear.

The boys, defending CCS champions in Division II, would love to repeat, but Hvidt, the senior goalie, spoke for many of his teammates in listing an additional item on the team's agenda.

"I've never beaten the Bells," said Hvidt, a four-year player, of archrival Bellarmine. "I'd really like to beat the Bells, but ... CCS, that banner hanging in our gym, is more important."

Meanwhile, Kim Benedetti spoke of maintaining the Lady Lancers' legacy.

"We really have to step up to compare to the St. Francis teams of the past," said Benedetti. "We're all trying to keep the same tradition."

E-mail Scott Campbell at [email protected]

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