MCCULLOUGH GYM — Rather than simply trying to corral a bunch of anxious teenagers for team photos, St. Ignatius turned its picture day into a full-fledged media day on Saturday, with seven teams giving a look into the upcoming season, headlined by the football and girls volleyball squads.
One common theme that athletic director John Mulkerrins and assistant athletic director Rob Marcaletti hammered home was the goal of increasing student support at games across the entire athletic department, with plans for at least half of the student body to attend next Saturday’s football season opener against Palo Alto.
The Wildcats may have won just three games last season, but with four losses by one score, SI was on the brink of joining the upper class of teams in the Bay Area.
“We’ve got a chance to make right some games we lost last year,” senior offensive lineman Beau Gardner said.
With Palo Alto coming to the Sunset District next Saturday and breaking in the new turf at J.B. Murphy Field, the ‘Cats will have the first of those chances, and they’ll also have opportunities to avenge last year’s playoff defeat to Sacred Heart Prep and exact revenge on fellow Jesuit school Gonzaga Prep of Spokane, Wash. before league play begins with the storied Bruce-Mahoney Game on Sept. 27.
Moving up the ranks in the West Catholic Athletic League is a major obstacle, as the upper tier of the league is loaded with teams full of Division I recruits, but it’s a challenge SI has managed in the past. In 2012, the Wildcats beat a heavily-favored Bellarmine team to win the Central Coast Section Open Division title.
“We really want to stay in the moment,” head coach John Regalia said. “We talk about stacking good days on good days, putting a good week together and then we stack good weeks together.”
While Regalia has yet to name a starting quarterback between Teddye Buchanan and Zach Taylor-Smith, both will be prominent all over the field. Buchanan was limited to playing linebacker over the second half of the 2018 season with an injured thumb, but he’s received attention from Division I schools for his defensive ability.
“It’s been amazing,” Buchanan said. “It’s a blessing to know I’ll be able to continue my football career in college. I’ve met some amazing coaches and traveled to a bunch of different camps and campuses.”
A CCS finalist and NorCal Open Division participant last year, the Wildcats graduated 11 seniors, including Lizzie Fleming, who’s about to begin her freshman season at Duke, but head coach Jen Curtin is optimistic about the young roster that will take to the court this season.
“They kicked butt as JV players, even playing against towering teams,” Curtin said of her undersized squad. “They’re relentless, and that tenacity is contagious. That’s going to take us far this year. We’re going to be scrappier than we’ve ever been before.”
Sisters Charlotte and Maggie Doyle are expected to play key roles as senior leaders on a team that finds strength in its versatility. Whereas much of the WCAL has players that tend to stick to one position, Curtin’s roster is full of girls who can play all over the floor.
Boys Water Polo
First-year head coach Will Grant is tasked with continuing the progress from a team that reached the CCS Open Division last year before being bounced in the quarterfinals by league foe Valley Christian.
“I think we’ve got a better attitude than last year and this squad will work harder,” said senior Billy Barry.
The Wildcats finished fourth in the WCAL last year, with the three teams ahead of them in the standings all earning high seeds in the Open Division.
“It’s been a growing experience to understand what these guys can do in the pool,” said Grant, who played at Santa Clara and graduated in 2017 after growing up in the Philadelphia area. “We’re reinventing ourselves as a team and sticking to fundamentals.”
Girls Water Polo
Second-year head coach Carla Tocchini, a St. Ignatius alum and 2013 winner of the John Brophy Award which recognizes athletic excellence at the school, hopes to improve her team’s intensity as the Wildcats aim to snap a two-year playoff drought.
“These are very nice girls,” Tocchini said. “We’re definitely working on aggressiveness so we can grab more steals.”
Continuity is another main theme for this year’s roster, as senior Elle Scandalios noted.
“Our team is very similar to last year, so we already know how to play with each other,” Scandalios said.
St. Ignatius enters the new year riding momentum from a strong track season in the spring, but the team has challenges to face that come with the uniquities of training in San Francisco. The Wildcats have the benefit of training in Golden Gate Park and hosting the second of the three WCAL meets there, but when they travel to the south, they have to be ready for significantly higher temperatures.
“We really focus on hydrating before those meets,” senior George Hollister said.
A CCS semifinalist in 2018, the SI field hockey squad competes in the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League as the WCAL does not have enough members to hold competition in the sport. This means constant showdowns with national powerhouse Los Gatos, the team that ended the Wildcats’ season last year in the playoffs.
“We look forward to seeing Los Gatos again and taking it to them,” head coach Haley Sanchez said.
The teams will meet at Los Gatos on Oct. 8, and on Oct.24 at Fairmont Field, which serves as SI’s home course.
Singles play has been a strength for the Wildcats in recent years, and after sharing the WCAL co-championship with St. Francis last year, they look to dominate singles matches once again in 2019.
“Over the past few years we’ve had some really great tournament players,” senior Michelle Conte said. “They’re top-notch players, great teammates and they know how to handle any type of opponent they’re going towards.”