"What I like about Palo Alto High is that there is high expectations every year," said Peters, head coach of the girls' team. "Obviously, this is a special year for our fall sports teams."
Both Paly basketball teams, however, are doing their best to emulate the football and volleyball squads. The Vikings lead their respective SCVAL De Anza Division races and there's no reason why either coach should expect anything less than a league title.
One reason is the fact both races are winnable with no dominant team. Heading into the second half of the season, the Paly boys (5-1, 11-6) lead Gunn (4-2, 12-6) by a full game while the Paly girls (6-0, 13-4) also lead the Titans (5-1, 13-3) by a full game.
Thus, the Paly boys and girls control their own destiny.
The other factor why both teams could be considered title favorites is depth and talent. Both teams are blessed in each category. It's just a matter of keeping things in perspective and their eyes on the prize.
"We have to stay focused on each game and practice, so that we can win our league," Peters said. "Then, see where it goes when we get into the playoffs."
Both Paly teams are ticketed to the Central Coast Section Division I playoffs this season, as are Gunn's squads. That should make for interesting matchups when the teams meet again at Gunn on Feb. 11, with titles and CCS seeds on the line.
Both Palo Alto teams kept their division leads intact this week by traveling to Los Gatos and winning in a hostile environment.
Having to play games at Los Gatos often has been upsetting for Palo Alto teams, which have seen dreams die at the hands of the host Wildcats over the years. The Paly girls' volleyball team, for example, went 41-1 this past fall with its only loss at Los Gatos.
There were no upsets like that on Tuesday as the Paly girls and boys.
In the tipoff to the varsity doubleheader, the Paly girls followed up their big victory over Gunn last week with a solid 44-34 victory. Defense once again was the key for the Vikings (6-0, 13-4), who held the Wildcats to just two baskets during a 20-minute span from the second to fourth quarters. Los Gatos scored just eight points in the second and third quarters combined, just a single point in the third period.
Paly used a fullcourt trap defense to force Los Gatos into turnovers, resulting in easy baskets for the Vikings. Sydney Davis, Katerina Peterson, Stephanie Allen and Emilee Osagiede sparked the press while Josie Butler was intimidating, as well, with numerous blocks and altered shots. Davis led the way with 12 points.
"The addition of Josie Butler, Sydney Davis and (freshman) Danielle Palmer has helped our defense immensely," Peters said. "Josie is a factor that has to be considered when teams go to the basket. Sydney stops most guard penetrators. Lindsay Black has greatly improved her defense from last year, which is also a factor. Emilee Osagiede is also a tremendous asset on defense. When you add all this up, it allows us flexibility and depth to play aggressively."
In the nightcap on Tuesday, Paly sophomore EJ Floreal poured in a season-high 27 points as the Vikings romped to a 75-47 triumph. Palo Alto had four players in double figures as Charlie Jones and Davante Adams chipped in with 11 points each while Max Schmarzo added 10 as the Vikings posted yet another impressive performance.
Elsewhere in girls' basketball action Tuesday night:
With senior guard Kelsey Morehead pouring in 21 points, Pinewood held on to first place in the West Bay Athletic League (Foothill Division) with a 63-34 thumping of visiting Castilleja. The Panthers (5-0, 14-4) grabbed a 34-19 halftime lead and outscored the Gators (0-4, 9-7) in the second half, 32-15. Hailie Eackles added 13 points for Pinewood, which made nine treys (out of 35 attempts) and had 20 steals.
After holding just a 13-8 first-quarter lead, Pinewood went on a 13-2 run while pushing its lead to 16. Castilleja senior Natasha von Kaeppler had 12 of her 13 points in the first half and finished with just five rebounds while guarding Eackles on the perimeter. Sophomore Lauren Rantz picked up the rebounding slack for the Gators, grabbing a career-high 12, while Laura Rose added 10.
In East Palo Alto, Eastside Prep's one-two senior punch of Ahjalee Harvey and Takara Burse was a knockout combination again as they combined for 37 points in the Panthers' 62-35 victory over visiting Sacred Heart Prep in WBAL (Foothill Division) action.
Harvey poured in 23 points while Burse contributed 12 points and 11 assists as the Panthers remained in second place at 4-1 (13-6). Freshman Kimberly Leu scored six points and pulled down seven rebounds while helping Eastside Prep jump out to a 35-16 halftime lead against the visiting Gators (1-4, 9-5).
In San Francisco, Menlo School jumped out to an important 24-14 lead in the first quarter that wound up making the difference in the game as the Knights held on for a 62-56 victory over host Mercy-San Francisco in a WBAL (Foothill Division) game.
The Knights (3-2, 13-6) moved into sole possession of third place with the victory. Drew Edelman led the way with 21 points and 16 rebounds while seniors Emma Paye and Whitney Hooper also contributed in a big way. Paye had 11 points and five assists while Hooper finished with 18 points, making four 3-pointers, as the Knights tuned up for Friday's home-game showdown with second-place Eastside Prep at 6 p.m.
In the PAL Bay Division, Menlo-Atherton had a great start but not-so-great finish and dropped a 77-58 decision to first-place Terra Nova in Atherton. The Bears (2-3, 6-13) jumped out to a 16-10 first-quarter lead and held a 36-35 advantage at halftime. The Tigers (5-0), however, roared back in the second half with 42 points to grab the victory. Sela Tupou led M-A with 21 points while Anna Crookston Herschlag added 12.
In nonleague action Wednesday:
Sophomore point guard Riya Modi returned after missing the five previous games, sparking Castilleja to a 46-39 victory over host St. Francis-CCC in Watsonville on Wednesday night. Modi scored eight points with five assists and two steals in her return from an ankle injury. During her absence, the Gators lost four of five games.
Castilleja (10-8) grabbed a seven-point halftime lead, which held up for the final margin as the teams matched each other the rest of the way. The Sharks did get to within four points late in the fourth quarter before Abby Thornburg scored on a layup for the Gators.
Senior Natasha von Kaeppler led the victory with 21 points and 17 rebounds, surpassing Nikki Perlman as the school's all-time leader in defensive rebounds in addition to becoming the third player in school history to score at least 1,500 career points. Senior Laura Rose added 10 rebounds and six points as Castilleja improved to 152-9 all-time while holding opponents under 40 points.
Trailing by 12 points in the third quarter, Menlo-Atherton rallied for a 56-55 victory over visiting Woodside on Wednesday in PAL Bay Division action. Senior Marquise Tolson scored 15 of his 17 points in the second half to go along with with six rebounds and three assists for the Bears (3-2, 10-9), who now have won back-to-back games for only the third time this season.
Tolson hit two free throws with under a minute to play for the winning margin.
Michael Culhane had 11 rebounds plus eight points for M-A, which trailed by seven at halftime but scored 37 points in the second half.
McKinley Mathon hit a trio of three-pointers in the fourth quarter and finished with 13 points and seven rebounds while Myles Brewer also scored 13 points while sparking the Bears' comeback.
In the West Bay Athletic League:
Despite the fact senior Reed McConnell was sidelined by a sprained ankle, Sacred Heart Prep still had plenty of depth to hold on to its lead in the WBAL following a 56-38 victory over host Harker on Tuesday night.
The Gators (7-0, 15-2) received a big 14 points from Pat McNamara with junior Cole McConnell adding 13 and senior Will McConnell tossing in 12. SHP's defense limited Harker to just 11 first-half points as the Gators avenged last season's only league loss.
Reed McConnell is expected to be sidelined two weeks with the ankle sprain, but hopes to be back in time to face second-place Pinewood on Feb. 4 in a showdown for the league title in Los Altos Hills.
Speaking of Pinewood, junior Dante Fraioli bounced back from a scoreless first half to score 18 points in the final two quarters to spark Pinewood to a wild 76-66 victory over host King's Academy in a WBAL game on Tuesday night. Fraioli made six 3-pointers as the Panthers (6-1, 14-3) made 13 while remaining a game back of first-place Sacred Heart Prep.
King's Academy made nine treys and rallied from 15 points down to make a game of it. Kevin Sweat (14 points), Bradley Naumann (11 points) and Solomone Wolfgramm (10) helped Pinewood shoot 62 percent from the field in the second half and 52 percent for the game. Wolfgramm battled foul trouble in the first half, during which he tallied just three points.
In Atherton, Brandon Willhite may have been lighting up the WBAL with his scoring this season, but the Priory senior finally had someone turn out his lights as host Menlo School limited him to just six points on its way to a 59-34 victory on Tuesday night.
Willhite scored 61 points in three games last week and has been averaging over 20. The Knights (4-3, 8-8) limited Willhite to just 3-of-13 shooting and four rebounds with five turnovers. Gabor Somogyi led Priory (1-6, 8-8) with 18 points but was the only player in double figures as the Panthers shot only 20 percent (11 of 55) from the floor. Menlo got 12 points from Jonny Halprin plus 10 points and seven rebounds from Will Miller while Mac Osborne added nine points.
In Hillsborough, visiting Eastside Prep (0-7, 5-12) nearly got its first WBAL victory before falling to host Crystal Springs, 43-42.
In the Private Schools Athletic League, first-place Mid-Peninsula remained solidly atop the league with a 54-34 victory over host Jewish Community School at the Koret Center in San Francisco. The Dragons improved to 6-0 in league (13-2 overall) as Lydell Cardwell scored 21 points and Reggie Williams added 15. Nick Seyer, a 6-foot-5 senior center, grabbed 18 rebounds and added eight points for the winners.