The Palo Alto girls' volleyball team received a special gift on Senior Night -- a 2-for-1 special. Not only did the Vikings knock off visiting Mountain View, but they got an added bonus when first-place Homestead was upset by Saratoga.
Palo Alto's victory and Homestead's loss suddenly shines a new light on Tuesday's showdown between the teams in the Mustangs' gym at 6:45 p.m. The winner will win the SCVAL De Anza Division title outright and gain valuable power points for the Central Coast Section playoffs.
Palo Alto (9-2, 21-9) did its part by knocking off Mountain View, 25-22, 25-16, 22-25, 25-14. At the same time, Homestead (8-2, 20-9) was losing to host Saratoga, 25-19, 19-25, 25-14, 25-15.
Since the Mustangs have one more match remaining in addition to facing Paly, there is a slight possibility that the teams could still end up in a tie for the title should the Vikings lose on Tuesday.
Palo Alto, however, can rule out that scenario by winning next Tuesday. Senior Hillary Ford produced 18 kills and junior Ally Whitson added 14 to pace the Vikings against Mountain View.
"The girls are focused," said Paly coach Dave Winn.
This past Tuesday, Palo Alto received 21 kills from Whitson and all it could handle in an entertaining 25-18, 25-18, 16-25, 25-22 win over crosstown rival Gunn at Paly. In the schools' first meeting a few weeks ago, Paly had no trouble sweeping the Titans in three games.
"Gunn played very well and has improved a lot since our first meeting," said Winn.
Palo Alto now will be playing for its third league title in four years. The Vikings won the SCVAL El Camino Division in 2004 and shared the De Anza Division crown last season.
Homestead, of course, will be no picnic. The Mustangs beat Paly in four games three weeks ago at Paly. Then again, Homestead is coming off a narrow five-game win over winless Los Altos this week, and now the loss to Saratoga.
The undisputed league champion receives all eight power points for seeding in the CCS playoffs, while a co-championship gives each team four points.
Gunn is a young unit with just two seniors and has endured a season of momentum streaks. The Titans won their first 14 matches of the season, before losing their first four matches in De Anza Division play. Gunn then caught fire and rattled off four straight wins before falling to Palo Alto on Tuesday night.
The Titans appear to be in good shape for a CCS Division II at-large playoff invitation, even with the prospects of finishing with a sub-.500 record in league.
Against Paly, Gunn accomplished a feat it hadn't produced all season -- capturing a Game 3 after falling behind 2-0.
"Not many expected us to win," said Gunn coach Raudy Perez after Tuesday's match. "For us to win Game 3 says a lot. I couldn't have asked for anything more."
Paly broke open a 10-9 advantage in Game 1 and tallied five of the game's final six points to win 25-18 and take a 1-0 lead. Whitson led the Vikings with four kills.
Whitson added six kills in Game 2 to lead Paly to a 25-18 triumph. Gunn got within 14-13 before Paly ripped off 11 of the game's final 16 points. Junior middle blocker Jilliann Lau had four kills for Gunn and finished with nine.
Led by Lau, senior outside hitter Tiffany Stone and junior outside hitter Lauren Ding, Gunn captured Game 3 (25-16) and quickly garnered confidence and momentum despite Whitson's six kills.
In a back-and-forth Game 4, Paly held off pesky Gunn down the stretch as Whitson and senior outside hitter Hillary Ford contributed five kills apiece to secure the match. Ford finished with 14 kills.
One reason why Gunn has improved is the return of junior middle blocker Taylor McAdam. While still not 100 percent due to an injury (back) suffered earlier in the season, the 5-foot-11 McAdam provides the Titans with much-needed size at the net.
Gunn (5-5, 19-5) bounced back from the loss to Paly and beat visiting Los Altos on Thursday night, 25-14, 13-25, 25-20, 25-18. Tiffany Stone paced the Titans with eight kills as the Eagles fell to 0-10 in league.
In other volleyball action this week:
Menlo (10-2, 22-9) bounced back from a loss to Woodside, which knocked the Knights into a tie for second placed in the PAL Bay Division, and handed Carlmont its first league loss at home in three years.
Menlo's 25-17, 21-25, 25-21, 26-24 was worth sole possession of second place in the PAL Bay.
"I believe it's the only home PAL match Carlmont has lost in the three years I've been in the league," said Menlo coach Chris Crader.
Senior Natalie Sandman led Menlo with 15 kills and a .353 hitting percentage while junior Abby Whelan contributed 15 digs and 11 kills. The Knights also received plenty of help from seniors Katherine Gorman, Ali Pace, Emily Anderson and junior Molly Bagshaw, who had 42 assists.
On Thursday, the Knights knocked off host Menlo-Atherton, 25-10, 25-10, 25-14 as Whelan produced 12 kills and hit .450.
In the West Bay Athletic League, Castilleja (8-3, 23-6) fell to first-place Harker on Thursday after sweeping host Notre Dame-San Jose on Tuesday.
In the loss to Harker, the Gators got 11 kills each from Taylor Docter and Laura Smith, plus 35 assists from Morgan Jones. In the win over Notre Dame-San Jose, Smith and Erin McLaughlin each had 11 kills while Jones added 39 assists.
On Monday, Castilleja handed host Sacred Heart Prep a 25-22, 25-13, 25-18 defeat in a possible preview of the CCS Division V playoffs.