After winning the past two North Coast Section Division II championships, the Las Lomas High boys water polo team was up for a new challenge this season.
So, the Knights successfully petitioned up to play in the Division I bracket for the upcoming NCS playoffs, joining teams such as Miramonte, Acalanes, Campolindo, De La Salle and San Ramon Valley.
The addition of Las Lomas, as well as Sir Francis Drake-San Anselmo, to the Division I bracket should help make the postseason as entertaining and competitive as it has been since water polo was split into two divisions in 2010.
Some of Las Lomas' top players, including leading scorer David Kessler, Sam Toriggino and goalie Spencer Creed, are underclassmen.
But coach Steve Mann thought the time was right for a bigger postseason test.
"We've got a good group of kids, and I think we'll be even stronger next year," said Las Lomas coach Steve Mann. "If we move up now, it'll help us down the road and get us experience."
The Knights have lost to De La Salle and Campolindo already this year but recently earned a thrilling triple-overtime win over Acalanes on their way to a fourth place finish at the NCS/CCS Challenge.
Northgate, which is ninth in this week's Bay Area News Group East Bay online rankings, has flown under the radar in 2012 -- mostly because it has played only 13 matches this season.
"With the returners that we have and the additional players added, we match up with anyone in the area," Northgate coach Dave Weiland said. "We are better than we were last year with more experience at all positions."
Michelle Lawrence, an outside hitter who was ill earlier in the season and is bound for Colorado State, is one of those players on the mend.
"Michelle is a complete player, and I think is the best in the Bay Area," Weiland said. "She is strong in any position on the court. Yes, she has been sick and has not been able to be showcased more. But as the season progresses, she will just get stronger and better."
-- Matt Smith, correspondent
Boys cross country
Northgate's Danny Stalters has achieved something rare this cross country season -- he's won races at five invitationals, and it isn't the middle of October yet.
Stalters, a senior, won the boys senior race at the Monte Vista Invitational on Sept. 4. He's followed that with victories at the Farmer Invitational at Hayward High, the Ram Invitational at Westmoor-Daly City, the Iolani Invitational in Oahu, Hawaii, and the boys large school race at the Artichoke Invitational.
Stalters was second to Miramonte's Tyler Hanson in the Ed Sias Invitational small school boys race.
Northgate coach Peter Brewer, who coached at Castro Valley for 25 seasons and is in his fourth year at Northgate, has never coached an athlete who has won that many invitationals in one season.
"His workouts are really strong," said Brewer, who also said that Stalters ran more than 700 miles this past summer. "He makes the whole team better."
Stalters isn't coming out of nowhere this season. The defending Diablo Valley Athletic League champion finished ninth in the 2011 NCS Division II championship race and 35th in the Division III state championship race.
Stalters will be racing at the Castro Valley Invitational this Saturday at Canyon Middle School.
-- Phil Jensen