Palo Alto played in Division II, which featured nationally No. 1-ranked Mitty. Thanks to an increased enrollment this season, the Vikings have moved up to Division I.
"Moving up to D1 definitely opens up postseason possibilities beyond what's expected in D2," Winn said.
Paly no longer has to play perennial powers like Mitty or St. Francis — teams that usually knock the Vikings out of the Central Coast Section playoffs. Last season's CCS Division I entrants in the NorCal playoffs were Salinas and Menlo-Atherton.
Thus, the door is open for Palo Alto to perhaps accomplish something never before achieved in program history.
"The biggest challenge (now) is to focus on just getting better every day and not trying to compare this season to any other," Winn said. "We'll need to harness all the experience we have from returning players and really seize this year's opportunity. I'd like to think our theme is 'carpe season.' "
Palo Alto is off to a great start in seizing the season after going 9-0 and winning the 36-team High Sierra Classic last weekend in Reno. No Paly volleyball team in history ever started as well after the first week. That means the Vikings will not be overlooked this season.
"We've been good the past few years, but somehow we managed to avoid radar detection until midseason," Winn said. "This year, there's no doubt we start the season with a target on our back."
Palo Alto's performance in Reno just made the target that much larger.
"I was thoroughly impressed with how well our girls did on serve receive and by minimizing errors this early in the season," said Winn, whose players hit .383 as a team for the whole tournament. "It's good to know we're starting off this season with the same high expectations that we ended with last season."
Palo Alto went 36-5 last season, the most victories in school history. The Vikings opened the season 2-3 and then won 33 straight before losing to Mitty in the CCS Division I finals. A loss to St. Francis (Sacramento) in the NorCal semifinals ended Paly's season.
The Vikings got a chance to avenge that loss to St. Francis by beating the Troubadors in the semifinals on Saturday, 25-18, 15-25, 15-11. Paly then soundly defeated Ripon (Modesto), 25-6, 25-15, for the title.
Palo Alto junior middle blocker Melanie Wade and senior libero Megan Coleman were named to the all tournament team. The 6-foot-5 Wade had 85 kills, hit .511, served 10 aces and had 19 blocks. Coleman added 14 aces and 99 digs in the nine matches.
Junior outside hitter Maddie Kuppe had 57 kills with nine aces, five blocks and 35 digs. She hit .336. Senior outside hitter Trina Ohms provided 52 kills, seven aces and 38 digs while junior Caroline Martin had 22 kills and hit.391. Junior setter Kimmy Whitson contributed 21 kills (.457 hitting) with 167 assists and five aces while junior middle blocker Jackie Koenig added 19 kills while hitting .359.
The Vikings will open their home season on Tuesday against Gunn in a nonleague match at 6:45 p.m.
Palo Alto bypassed the annual Spikefest I tournament, which was held Saturday at Milpitas and Independence highs. The local area still was well-represented.
Sacred Heart Prep had the best local finish, taking seventh with a 3-2 record. After opening with 2-1 victories over Cupertino and Sacred Heart Cathedral, the Gators (4-2 overall) dropped a tough two-game match to Mitty and a three-game match to Notre Dame-Belmont. Sacred Heart rebounded to win its finale over Carlmont, two games to one.
Sacred Heart Prep was led by Sarah Daschbach with 31 digs and 43 kills while Sonia Abuel-Saud contributed 25 kills and 29 digs. Hanna Elmore set up the hitters with 63 assists and was supported by Amelia Alvarez, who added 59 assists while Oliva Bertolacci finished with 42 digs.
Menlo-Atherton had the next-best local finish as the Bears finished 15th overall out of 32 teams despite going 2-3. Menlo-Atherton beat Menlo School (22-25, 25-23, 15-13) and downed Valley Christian (25-21, 27-25). In between, the Bears lost to Clovis West, Los Gatos and Westmont.
"It was a tough day, but we learned a lot of lessons that we can build from and improve upon already," said M-A second-year coach Jen Wilson. "It was a great chance for us to test out some lineups and work through some kinks. Although the close losses were tough to swallow, they showed us that we're right in the thick of it and can only get better. "
Castilleja (5-1 overall) went 4-1 in the Spikefest and won the Red Division, but finished 17th overall after losing its opening match to Notre Dame-Belmont in two games. The Gators then beat San Mateo (2-1), Milpitas (2-0), Burlingame (2-1) and Menlo School (2-1).
"We passed well and hit well," said Castilleja coach Tracie Meskell. "We won our games executing the little things like passing, serving, controlling the ball during rallies and broken plays. I am very pleased with the team and feel we have a great foundation to start from for the rest of the season."
Standout players for Castilleja were Lindsey Wang (defense and serving) and Laura Rose and Hannah Bolland (hitting and blocking).
Menlo School went 3-2 in the tourney at Independence High and finished 18th overall.
"Overall, our girls did a lot of very good things, and really started the season off on the right foot," said Menlo coach Chris Crader. "We had two tough losses, but we can learn a lot from them, and from all the good stuff we did. It was a really positive starting point for us to build from."
Gunn also went 3-2 at the Spikefest. The Titans lost their opener to Presentation (25-17, 25-10) but bounced back to beat Van Nuys (16-25, 25-12, 15-6 behind Julia Magioncalda's eight kills. After the loss to Menlo, Gunn downed San Benito (25-11, 25-16) and defeated Los Altos (25-16, 29-27) as Kiana Choroski had 13 kills combined in the two victories.
Gunn (5-2) jumped back into action Tuesday night and rallied for a thrilling 24-26, 23-25, 25-15, 25-22, 15-6 nonleague triumph over visiting Homestead. Junior outside hitter Adrienne Thom sparked the Titans with 17 kills and 27 digs, while sophomore Molly McAdam contributed 12 kills and junior Julia Li contributed 28 digs for the match and junior Alyn Shen had 49 assists after coming off the bench.
In other nonleague action:
Sacred Heart Prep handed host Hillsdale a 25-18, 25-11, 25-10 defeat as Sarah Daschbach provided 11 kills and five digs for the Gators (5-2). Teammate Jesse Ebner added nine kills and four block assists while Hanna Elmore had 18 assists, five digs and two aces.
At Los Altos Hills, Pinewood opened its season with a 25-18, 25-9, 25-17 victory over visiting Liberty Baptist. Lizzy Fields had seven kills and hit .500 to lead the Panthers. Gabriel Wainwright contributed three kills in a reserve role while settere Adrienne Whitlock provided 20 assists and libero Kandace Korver added six digs and a string of service aces in the second game to help record the triumph.
Pinewood (2-0) remained unbeaten despite some early deficits and pulled out a 25-22, 20-25, 25-19, 25-19 nonleague victory over host Drew Prep in San Francisco on Wednesday.
After trailing in the first game (but eventually winning it) and losing the second game, Pinewood started off strong and led the third game from start to finish. The Panthers trailed in Game 4 at 10-6 and 16-14 before burning some timeouts and eventually rallying to win.
Whitlock had 17 assists, Korver added 19 digs and Fields produced 12 blocks to lead Pinewood.