At the beginning of the 2013 girls' volleyball season, Menlo first-year head coach Steve Cavella gathered his squad to discuss the overall team goals for the upcoming year.
According to junior setter Elisa Merten, the checklist of goals the team decided upon included: winning the West Bay Athletic League, winning the CCS Tournament, winning the NorCal championship, and finally, in big bold letters, going to -- and winning -- the state championship game.
After Tuesday night, only the final and most prestigious goal remains unchecked for the Knights.
Top-seeded Menlo (32-5) survived a late run from No. 2-seeded Sonora, to win the CIF NorCal Division IV title, 25-21, 22-25, 25,-15, 22-25, 15-7.
The victory propels the Knights into Saturday's CIF State Championship match (12:30 p.m.) against Francis Parker (28-5), the top-seeded team in Southern California and the reigning state champion, which advanced by way of a 25-13, 22-25, 25-17, 25-19 victory over No. 2 Saddleback Valley Christian.
"It's been a fun ride so far," Cavella said. "The team's worked really hard. We set this goal to make the state championship at the beginning of the year. It's been a long process to do that and we are really happy with how the season's gone."
Menlo is seeking its first girls' volleyball state championship in their fifth trip to the championship game. The Knights took part in the state championship in four consecutive years from 1999 to 2002, but were beaten badly in all four matches, winning only a single game over the four- year period.
"We are obviously so excited. It was a dream in the beginning of the season," senior middle blocker Morgan Dressel said of playing in the championship game. "I'm so glad we accomplished every single step needed until now. All of our hard work has paid off."
The Knights were almost forced to make other plans for Saturday afternoon, as Sonora pushed Menlo to the brink of elimination.
Coming into Tuesday night's match, Menlo had not played in a fifth game all season, and it appeared that Menlo might avoid playing one against Sonora, as well. The Knights looked dominant in a 25-15 Game 3 victory that put them up overall 2-1, and had plenty of momentum heading into Game 4.
But the Wildcats struck back, winning the fourth game 22-25, to push the Knights into uncharted territory.
"There were nerves, but we knew we had to stay confident," Dressel said of team's mood before the fifth game. "Our goal was to come out strong, win the first few points and take it from there."
Menlo executed its plan to perfection, as the Knights opened up an early 7-3 advantage, and never trailed the rest of the match. Menlo spread around their offensive attack in the final game, as Dressel, senior Maddie Huber, junior Lida Vandermeer, and senior Maddy Frappier each had multiple kills for the Knights.
"It's awesome to have so many different people be able to contribute," Huber said. "We have such a deep team and so many different weapons that we can mix up the hitters and get kills in different ways."
Frappier ended up smashing home the game-winning kill for Menlo, sending the Knights into a state of jubilation on the court.
Overall in the contest, Merten had the magic touch for Menlo, racking up an incredible 70 assists on the night by passing the ball with great precision and touch.
"As a team (passing) is one of our strong points. We have some really good passers and diggers," Merten said. "Coming into this game, we knew (Sonora) had some pretty top servers. To actually get some kills, we needed to make those (good) passes."
The junior setter helped several of her teammates accumulate some impressive kill numbers. Huber led the team with 19 kills, while Vandermeer had 16 kills, Dressel had 14 kills and sophomore Maddie Stewart had 17 kills.
For the upcoming state championship game, Menlo players admitted there were certain areas they needed to tighten up, such as reacting to tip-balls, getting in correct hand positions on block attempts, and staying mentally focused throughout the match.
However, despite the possible areas for improvement, the team still exuded an optimistic outlook for their upcoming match.
"We have the talent that we need to win," Dressel said. "We just need to be focused and confident."
"All in all we are pretty set," Merten added. "We just need to scout the opposing team, and know what they do. Then we can just do what we do."
The championship game against Francis Parker will take place at Santiago Canyon College, located in Orange County in Southern California.