The Biggest 2012 Local Sports Stunner Went Overlooked (and What That Has to Do With Food)
January 3, 2013
The Monterey County sports story of the year went wildly under-reported.
It happened as Carmel High’s water polo team traveled to Aptos two months ago to play the vaunted Soquel Knights for a share of the Monterey Bay League Gabilan Division title.
Soquel had already handed the Padres their only two losses of the year. Soquel Coach Marcelo Adas went into the game with two league losses himself…in 18 years.
Soquel had won 91 straight league games. The last time they lost one, in fact, American Idol was a brand new concept.
To add import, Adas announced before the game he would retire after the season, making this his last league game.
For all of its diminutive school size, Carmel’s brought with it a strong program, though that was a new development. Before 2010, they hadn't won a league title in several decades.
The reason they weren’t collecting a third Mission Trail Athletic League title in as many years was the new "equity" leagues being drawn across the region to bring smaller schools up to into leagues with comparable program strength, regardless of enrollment. The little upstart school had to head into Santa Cruz's toughest territory.
Still, they battled.
"Evenly matched," Carmel Coach Aaron Gaily says. "Very physical."
(Full disclosure: I played basketball against Gaily’s Carmel Padres in high school and now he’s my chiropractor.)
But with 18 seconds left, Carmel trailed. Soquel looked to win its 92nd straight—until long-armed star wing Trey Coppinger changed that.
His bullet through two defenders and the lunging goalie into the far corner of the cage would've seemed implausible for most scorers, but he had already won a game at the buzzer in Santa Cruz similar fashion earlier in the year.
"A pretty miraculous kind of shot," Gaily says, "but he was the guy we wanted taking it."
Soquel promptly raced to a lead in the first overtime as big, fast, left-handed super sophomore Jack Pickard tallied two of six goals for the game ("He's like a lefty in baseball throwing 95mph," Gaily says). But again, Carmel answered, and Chimay Skinner scored with 1:25 left on a quicksilver-quick catch-and-shoot to knot things up again.
“The Carmel High boys water polo team demonstrated the definition of resilience,” Santa Cruz Sentinel’s Max Blaha wrote later.
"Every play seemed to define the team," Gaily says. "Their unselfish play, their vision, their being unafraid to take the big shot."
In water polo the next overtime is sudden death. Over Carmel Coach Gaily’s career, he’s never reached a second overtime.
When a Soquel foul suddenly gave Padres center—and the center of their offense—Zack Olivas a penalty shot, essentially a gimme from right in front of the goal, it looked like Carmel would shock the huge favorites.
"I'm thinking, 'We're gonna win on this shot,'" Gaily says.
Only the league co-MVP and leading Padres scorer skipped his penalty shot off the water and over the crossbar.
A massive opportunity, for a 90-goal scorer, in sudden death, evaporated. Carmel shoulders sank; Soquel's swelled.
"You could feel the air go out of our bench," Gaily says. "We couldn't believe it. But there was no let-down. We kept the intensity up through the rest of the second overtime. I was so proud of them."
When the second overtime went scoreless, on came another sudden-death period.
Suddenly—on Soquel's first possession—Carmel snatched a steal and Brett Luch touched off a breakaway, hitting big Ethan Atkins with a pretty lead pass across the pool.
Atkins finished the last sprint of a marathon with a redirect past Soquel's star goalie to the net—and amphibious chaos broke loose.
“People were so emotionally and physically drained they were weeping,” Gaily says. “And that was just in the stands.”
The student-athletes threw all of the coaches in the pool, joined them, and the celebration splashed on despite the exhaustion.
It would fit for a script, sure, but it also works as the biggest local sports upset of the year—and maybe the last 10 years. It also happened with barely a sniff from Monterey County media. All that ran the next day was briefing based on Gaily's texts to the Monterey County Herald, which skipped sending a reporter because Editor Royal Calkins just knew Carmel would be crushed.
The biggest food stories of the year, fortunately, did not have to stomach that fate.
They were celebrated here with an appetite befitting a team that’s less food critical than it is food enthusiastic. Check back on the blog later today for four of 2012's 12 top foodie stories, and tomorrow for the next four.
PS Our biggest upset/surprise of the culinary calendar year was when audiences responded most dramatically to two stories that might’ve seemed minor: A bikini car wash benefit at Curly’s Barbecue and word the Independent Marketplace would start charging a $5 entry.