Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - January 1, 2010

The year of the streak

Gunn girls' basketball, Paly girls' volleyball grabbed our attention

by Keith Peters

No state champions and no national players of the year. That, however, didn't mean the 2009 high school sports season was lacking because it wasn't. There were plenty of team and individual highlights to mark the end of this decade.

For those who like streaks, about these? The Menlo School girls' tennis team won its 168th straight league match since 1994. The Pinewood girls' basketball team improved to 149-0 in league games since 1995. The Palo Alto girls' volleyball team compiled a 33-match winning streak and the Gunn girls' basketball team went 28-0 before finally losing.

Since the tennis and basketball streaks are ongoing, perhaps the co-stories of the year involved the Paly volleyball and Gunn basketball squads.

The Gunn streak actually started in late 2008, but the Titans carried it into '09 and were still undefeated heading into the Central Coast Section playoffs. Gunn won its first-ever SCVAL De Anza Division title, beating defending CCS champ Wilcox twice during the season.

With senior Jasmine Evans leading the way, Gunn advanced to its first-ever CCS final before finally losing to Mitty. The Titans did qualify for their first trip to the NorCal playoffs before losing in the semifinals to end a magical 29-2 season under coach Sarah Stapp.

The Palo Alto girls' volleyball team had a similar season, which started off with an unspectacular 2-3 beginning in the first tournament of the year. After that, the Vikings just didn't lose. They swept through the SCVAL De Anza Division season undefeated and took a 31-game winning streak into the CCS playoffs. After two victories, Paly ran up against the nation's No. 1 team in Mitty (the same school to end Gunn's magic) in the section finals. Despite putting up a battle, Paly's streak ended at 33.

Coach Dave Winn took his team and senior standout Marissa Florant into the NorCal playoffs, where a remarkable 36-5 season ended in a semifinal loss to St. Francis (Sacramento).

While the Gunn and Paly squads didn't win CCS or NorCal titles, their respective winning streaks grabbed the headlines as well as the attention of their fans and followers — making for an entertaining year.

Among the other winter highlights qualifying for stories of the year:

* The aforementioned Pinewood girls' basketball team won CCS and NorCal titles and took a 21-game winning streak into the CIF Division V State Championships before seeing its excellent 31-5 season come to an end.

>* The Gunn boys' basketball team also enjoyed a highly successful season, winning its first-ever SCVAL De Anza Division title. The Titans toppled rival Palo Alto during league play and advanced to the CCS semifinals (a 43-42 loss to Mitty) before having their fine 23-6 season under coach Chris Redfield. It was Gunn's best postseason run since 1981.

* The Menlo boys' basketball team captured the CCS Division IV title before dropping its NorCal opener, finishing 23-4, while top-seeded Eastside Prep defeated Priory for the CCS Division V title and reached the NorCal semifinals before losing.

* The Palo Alto boys and girls plus the Sacred Heart Prep girls all reached CCS soccer title matches in 2009. The top-seeded Paly boys, who allowed only one goal in 12 league matches, wound up tying Bellarmine, 0-0, for the CCS Division I crown. Sacred Heart Prep won its first-ever West Bay Athletic League (Foothill Division) title and advanced to its first section finale where the Gators capped a 15-3-5 season with a 2-1 victory over top-seeded Santa Cruz on two goals by up-and-coming standout Abby Dahlkemper. The Paly girls played in their first CCS finale in 20 years, but fell to powerful Monta Vista.

* Gunn senior Zack Blumenfeld set his sights on winning a CCS title and qualifying for the state meet, and did just that.

The spring brought us remarkable Paly freshman Jasmine Tosky, who lived up to every expectation during the season while re-writing the school and section record books. She won two individual titles and had a hand in seven section records while helping the Vikings finish second to Mitty in the CCS meet, missing first place by a mere three points.

In other spring highlights:

* The Menlo School boys' tennis team also lived up to expectations by winning its eighth CCS team title with a 4-3 win over Bellarmine. With senior Daniel Hoffman helping lead the way, the Knights went on to beat the Bells again in the NorCal finals to cap a sensational 27-2 year.

* Pinewood junior sprinter Angela Gradiska was sensational, as well, as she won CCS titles in the 100 and 200 meters and ran some of the fastest times in the state. She moved on to the state meet, where she took second in the 200 and fourth in the 100 to cap a remarkable track and field season.

* Senior golfers Nick Sako of Menlo-Atherton and Martin Trainer grabbed the spotlight in the spring, as well, as the two friends qualified for the CCS, NorCal and state tournaments. They tied for the NorCal crown (Trainer won it in a playoff) before capping their fine prep careers in the state tourney in Pebble Beach.

* The softball story of the spring was all about Castilleja junior pitcher Sammy Albanese. Her many highlights included pitching a 14-inning game where she struck out 37 hitters and threw 176 pitches. For that effort she landed in Sports Illustrated's "Faces In The Crowd."

The fall brought us cross country, football and water polo, among others. Gunn senior Paul Summers capped his fine prep career by winning the CCS Division II individual title and helping his team reach the state meet. Palo Alto senior Philip MacQuitty also capped his final year of running the hills with a top-15 finish at the state finals.

Football brought us the record-breaking campaign of Menlo senior quarterback Danny Diekroeger, who led the Knights to their first-ever appearance in the CCS playoffs and into their first section championship game. While Menlo (9-4) was thumped by No. 1 Carmel in the title game, 56-35, Diekroeger broke all kinds of records with 470 passing yards and five touchdowns. His 4,187 passing yards (with 35 touchdowns) was a Bay Area record.

* In other football highlights, Palo Alto toppled Los Gatos and Milpitas during the regular season and earned a berth into the CCS Open Division. There, however, the Vikings ran up against eventual champion and state finals participant Bellarmine and saw its 7-2-2 season end.

Sacred Heart Prep made a strong showing in its first appearance in the PAL Bay Division, finishing second and reaching the CCS playoffs for a second straight season before falling to Menlo and finishing 8-4.

* Gunn saw a resurgence in its football program under first-year coach Bob Sykes. The Titans tied for the SCVAL El Camino Division title and qualified for the CCS playoffs for only the third time in school history. A loss to Leland in the opening round capped the Titans' fine season at 7-4.

* The Sacred Heart Prep boys' and girls' water polo teams set their sights on winning a third consecutive CCS championship and both teams succeeded in their quest. The SHP boys became the first Division II teams to win three in a row with a surprisingly easy 15-6 romp over rival Menlo. The SHP girls won a defensive battle with St. Ignatius, 6-2, with both Sacred Heart teams sending their seniors off the best way possible. The Gators' David Culpan and Ben Dearborn shared MVP honors on the CCS Division II team while Heather Smith was the girls' CCS Division II MVP.

As 2009 comes to a successful end, the 2010 season is ready to take its place. There are no monumental winning streaks under way just yet, but there's plenty of time. There are plenty of quality athletes, coaches and teams to make the coming year a special one.

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