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America’s Finest City Invitational

Knights, Islanders finals matchup marks reunion

America's Finest City Invitational Photo Album (click here)

America's Finest City Invitational scoreboard (click here)


By Phillip Brents

Posted Sept. 29, 2002

LA JOLLA – Randy Burgess has produced nearly 40 high school All-Americans during his celebrated tenure spanning parts of three decades and 13 San Diego Section division championships at Coronado High School. The odds suggested it was only a matter of time before his some of his former students – now coaching teams of their own – returned to battle their master mentor.

And beat him at his own game, so to speak.

The torch was passed at the finals of the inaugural America’s Finest City Invitational, held Sept. 28 at the Coggan Family Aquatic Complex on the campus of La Jolla High School., when the Menlo School Knights – coached by Islander alums Jack Bowen and Tom Mitchell – upended Coronado, 8-7, in sudden-death overtime, to capture the championship of the 12-team tournament, formerly known as the Islander Invitational.

Bowen (CHS Class of 1991) and Mitchell (CHS Class of 1990) are both former San Diego Section Players of the Year, both graduates of Stanford University and both former members of the United States Junior National Team. A three-time high school All-American, Bowen went on to play five years for the senior national team and is now an assistant coach in the program. A two-time high school All-American, Mitchell has since joined Bowen at the Menlo School, helping lead the Knights to their first Central Coast Section title last year. Because of Bowen’s duties with the national team, Mitchell has taken on more coaching responsibilities this year.

Bowen -- the 1990 3A San Diego Section Player of the Year and second all-time in the section record book with 926 career saves -- is entering his third year as coach of the Knights, who improved to 11-2 on the season.

"Jack has done a wonderful job with the team since he’s been there," said Mitchell, the 1988 San Diego Section Player of the Year. "When the game was over, you didn’t hear of a lot of yelling. There’s a lot of respect between these two teams. We’ve come down the last two summers to do some offseason training with Randy. It was special but we’ll take a victory any time."

While the Knights may not exactly beaten the Islanders with the same game plan that Burgess employed more than a decade ago – Burgess said the team now plays a different style – the basic fundamentals that Burgess instilled in both Bowen and Mitchell during their high school playing days paid dividends in helping shape a new generation of water polo talent.

"It’s what we started with Randy," explained Mitchell in regard to the Knights’ stalwart defensive play that highlighted the championship game. "If the other team cannot score, it’s hard to lose the game. All our starters contributed and played hard to keep Coronado from breaking on the counter."

Burgess was gracious in defeat, telling the Menlo School players "you pushed us to play the best we could" while presenting the Knights with post-game medals and the championship trophy.

Senior Adam Haley, who scored five of Menlo’s eight goals in the championship game, including the game-winning goal with 1:55 left in the sudden-death overtime period, earned recognition as the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. Senior two-meter set Kevin Platschon, who had five steals in the final against the Islanders, and senior goalie Max Rosendin (11 saves in the championship match) also received berths on the All-Tournament Team.

Mitchell credited Rosendin with playing "his best game of the tournament" in the final against Coronado. "He stepped up for the finals. That’s what we were looking for," Mitchell said.

The Islanders, who are reloading after graduating nearly everyone from last year’s San Diego Section Division II championship team, fell to 3-2 in their first tournament action of the 2002 campaign. Despite the championship game loss, Burgess seemed pleased with his team’s progress and re-fitting in the early going. "They (the Knights) were a little more experienced than we were. This was their third tournament. That was our second, third, fourth and fifth games of the season. We got a little bit better. We’re not as good as we’re going to be."

Goalie Scott Syverson and center-forward John Arnold were Coronado’s All-Tournament Team selections. Arnold had two goals in the final against Menlo. He sent the game into overtime on the strength of his goal with 1:36 to play in regulation that tied the score at 7-7. Junior Tommy Corcoran led the Islanders with three goals in the game.

After defeating Poway Invitational champion La Jolla, 7-3, in the semifinals earlier that morning, Coronado got off to a great start in the championship game when junior Matt Diggs gave the Islanders an early 1-0 lead just 45 seconds into the matchup. But Menlo’s Haley quickly began to leave his personal imprint on the game. Haley, who doubled as the Knights’ two-meter defender and point guard, gave the Knights the lead on a pair of unanswered goals 1:03 apart before Diggs tied the game at 2-2 with 36 seconds remaining in the opening period.

Solid defensive play and outstanding goaltending in the second period resulted in a 4-2 Menlo lead at halftime. Haley scored his third consecutive goal of the game on a four-meter penalty shot at 5:22 and senior Chris Sakai added a goal at 4:33.

While they may not be the best team in the San Diego Section this season (that honor might go to Bishop’s at the current time), the Islanders still proved they are going to be among the section’s most formidable opponents by producing a second-half rally that saw them outscore the Knights 5-3.

While defense defined the opening half, offense took command in the third period as the teams combined for five goals – three by Coronado – as the Islanders chipped the Menlo lead to a single goal at 6-5. Corcoran scored the first of this three second-half goals just 34 seconds into the third period to halve Coronado’s deficit to 4-3. However, Haley promptly racked up his fourth goal of the game with 1:05 elapsed in the period and junior driver Taylor Wells doubled the Knights’ lead to 6-3 at the 4:01 mark. The Islanders got back into the thick of the contest with unanswered goals by Arnold and Corcoran in the final 3:04 of the period to draw Coronado to within one goal on the scoreboard.

Platschon scored his only goal of the game in timely fashion, coming 2:11 into the final period, to give Menlo some breathing room and a 7-5 lead. But the Islanders closed regulation with the last two goals to earn a 7-all standoff. Corwran brought Coronado to within one goal, at 7-6, on a four-meter penalty shot just seven seconds after Platshon’s tally. Arnold tied the game with 1:36 left and the game ended with momentum on the Islanders’ side. Corcoran almost got the game-winner in regulation with 17 seconds 5 to play but Rosendin came up big for the Knights with a championship-winning save.

The 12-team tournament featured teams from four CIF sections. The consolation championship game again pitted teams from different sections as La Jolla downed San Clemente, 12-6, to finish third in the tournament and raise its overall seasonal record to 8-1.

Matt Marinkovich scored six goals and fellow All-Tournament Team selection Mark Vacquier allowed just two second-half goals to lead the Vikings past San Clemente. La Jolla jumped out to an early 4-1 lead but encountered stormy second and third periods during which the Vikings’ Southern Section opponent put itself back into the game by trailing 8-6. A run of four unanswered goals by La Jolla and shutout goaltending by Vacquier, however, shut the door on any San Clemente comeback.

Junior Nick Eddy helped key the Vikings offense with three goals while senior Grayson LaFrenz scored two goals. Junior Paul Mittermiller had La Jolla’s other goal.

The Vikings finished the tournament with a 3-1 record and wins against Mt. Carmel (10-5), Clovis East (13-5) and San Clemente (12-6).

La Jolla coach Tom Atwell attributed the Vikings’ successful start to better understanding of the transition game. "This year, the difference is our transition game. Our kids are fairly well conditioned. They can get up and down the water faster. We have all six guys contributing to the offense and defense," Atwell said.

Mt. Carmel, a Division I playoff quarterfinalist last year but looking to move up this year, improved to 6-2 on the season following its 11-5 victory against Scripps Ranch in the fifth-place game. Senior Justin Garver led the Sundevils with four goals against the Falcons while senior Tyler Bigbie and All-Tournament team selection Ryan Lindroth both contributed two goals.

Scripps Ranch (3-2) did not go down easily, however. The Falcons, who were playing shorthanded both in the water and on the bench, recovered from a 4-1 halftime deficit to lead 5-4 on the opening goal of the final period before Mt. Carmel assumed control of the contest with seven consecutive goals to close out the game.

The Sundevils’ turnaround came after a fiery motivational speech by head coach Mitchell Hoffarth following the third period. "They were flat in the third quarter and came out hard in the fourth quarter," said Hoffarth, whose team also received goals from senior Phil Spann, junior Vince Rogers and freshman Kevin Lorber.

Senior co-captain Cary Allen paced the Falcons with a pair of goals against Mt. Carmel, including the go-ahead goal in the fourth period. Scripps Ranch received single goals from senior Mike Mitchell, sophomore Andy Akers and junior Andy Dobbs.

Senior goalie Stephen Sampson, the team’s other co-captain, earned All-Tournament Team status. Junior David Jacobs, while not earning selection to the All-Tournament Team, was another player who excelled in the pool, scoring 12 goals in three games.

The Falcons, who placed sixth in the tournament, enter this season following the graduation of four starters and what second-year head coach Marcus Gregory termed the loss of "90 percent of the team’s offense."

"We have two players with varsity experience returning. The rest are all brand new to the varsity," Gregory said.

Still, Gregory expects the Western League banner chase to be closely contested. "Bishop’s will be the strong one. After that, Coronado has the upper edge on second but after that it’s wide open," the Scripps Ranch coach said. "I think every game will be tough. You can count on eight or nine tough league games this season."

Given the depth of retooling the team’s offense, Gregory said he was pleased with the team’s progress but not necessarily the speed at which progress is being made. "To see them develop from the beginning of the winter to now, they’ve jelled into something competitive. We have six strong starters who won’t make a lot of mistakes defensively. It’s just about putting the ball into the net. Hopefully, we can continue to develop as the season goes on," the Falcons coach said.

But one thing should remain constant: Expect Western League teams to dominate the Division II playoff seeding once again this year.

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