Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - September 30, 2011

Still a learning process for Paly's state champs

by Keith Peters

It was only a few weeks ago that the Palo Alto girls' volleyball team was undefeated, ranked No. 4 in the nation in one poll and, seemingly, on top of the world following a big victory over Presentation. My, how things have changed since then.

The Vikings were 15-3 by mid-week, two more losses than their entire 2010 season, and have dropped off the national radar.

On Monday, Palo Alto took on perennial nemesis St. Francis in a battle between two California state championship teams. Despite having the home court advantage, the Vikings made too many mistakes early and dropped a 25-20, 28-26, 19-25, 22-25, 15-8 decision.

Senior Maddie Kuppe had 10 kills and senior setter Kimmy Whitson added 42 assists for Paly.

It was only two weekends ago that the Lancers lost to Presentation for the second time this season and beat Mitty in the annual Mitty Invitational. The host Monarchs, meanwhile, lost to Presentation. Thus, by comparing results, it could be determined that (at least hypothetically) Paly should be better than Presentation, St. Francis and Mitty.

"Volleyball is a crazy sport and the rules of transitivity definitely do not apply," Palo Alto coach Dave Winn said following Monday's loss.

If last season was all about the record (41-1) and state championship for Paly, this season is all about learning how to get back to that level of excellence. Winn put together the toughest schedule in program history, perhaps knowing that his team would take some lumps. In the long run, however, Winn figured his team would benefit.

So, despite the loss to the Lancers, there was something positive.

"I again liked the fact we were able to fight back after being two sets down," he said. "But, we have to stop putting ourselves in these situations. We were up 24-20 in the second set but squandered several opportunities to score and lost (28-26). To me, that's when we lost the match. By the time we got to the fifth set, we had lost a lot of our energy and made a lot of sloppy mistakes.

"But, it's all good learning. I'm very interested to see how we respond on Thursday."

Palo Alto hosted Los Gatos on Thursday in a SCVAL De Anza Division showdown. The Wildcats were the only team to beat the Vikings last season, ending a 26-match win streak in the process. Paly bounced back from that loss and won 15 straight, including its first-ever state title.

The Vikings need to bounce back once again. There's still a division title to defend and there's one more tournament on the schedule — Spikefest II — before Paly begins defense of its CCS Division I crown.

At this point, the Vikings have faced their toughest competition of the season -- unless they meet Presentation, St. Francis or Mitty in the Spikefest II. Everything is pointing to a return visit to San Jose State for the state finals on Dec. 3.

The Vikings, however, need to learn from their recent struggles and improve. Winn, for one, believes his team can do just that. Paly has the talent, depth and experience and now just needs to make it all work once again.

The volleyball season continued to unfold on Tuesday night, with another interesting matchup in PaloAlto.

It was three against one as Castilleja and Menlo School met to open their West Bay Athletic League (Foothill Division) seasons. On one side was Gators' head coach Tracie (Hubbard) Meskell and her sister, Gwen, and their father, Tom. On the other side was Knights' head coach Atlee Hubbard, their sister.

Three against one are pretty good odds, and they held up as Castilleja held off Menlo, 12-25, 25-13, 25-18, 17-25, 15-13. The Gators (1-0) improved to 13-8 overall while the Knights (0-1) fell to 14-5.

"I told Atlee that her girls played a good game and that her players served really well and I gave her a hug," Meskell said of her postgame encounter with her sister.

Despite a slow start, Castilleja came on strong and got a big effort from senior Hannah Boland, who led the big win with 17 kills and four aces. Junior Lucy Tashman added 11 kills and nine digs while junior setter Hannah Hsieh contributed 38 assists.

"This match had certain games that had some of our best efforts but not the entire match," Meskell said. "As a whole, our hitters definitely had their best game so far this season."

Menlo, meanwhile, got 16 kills from junior Emma Thygesen and 14 kills with 10 digs from sophomore Maddie Huber.

"The team played some of their best volleyball this season and made great hustle plays," said Atlee Hubbard, who coached at Castilleja last season. "Freshman setter Elisa Merten made some very exciting plays at the net, which gave the team extra energy and momentum. The match was so even that it is hard to feel like we lost it.

Overall it was a great experience for our team."

Menlo sophomore middle blocker Morgan Dressel added 10 kills and two blocks, and junior Charlotte Kohlberg contributed 10 kills. Sophomore Melissa Cairo tallied 22 digs. Sophomore Sarah Bruml and senior Natalie Roy each had three of the team's 12 total aces.

In another WBAL (Foothill Division) opener on Tuesday, host Sacred Heart Prep (1-0, 11-3) got 12 kills and four blocks from Jesse Ebner in a 25-20, 25-19, 25-13 victory over visiting Mercy-Burlingame.

In a WBAL (Skyline Division) opener, host Pinewood (0-1, 6-4) dropped a 25-19, 25-15, 25-15 decision to Harker. Claire Nolan led the Panthers with five kills and .715 hitting while setter Adrienne Whitlock added 13 assists. Outside hitter Kandace Korver finished with four kills and six digs.

In the SCVAL De Anza Division, Gunn was swept by host Los Altos, 25-17, 25-16, 25-12. Lena Latour and Erica Johnston each had five kills for the Titans, who fell to 0-3 in league (10-9 overall).

In the PAL Bay Division, Menlo-Atherton remained atop the standings as the Bears (3-0, 10-4) romped to a 25-5, 25-23, 25-8 victory over visiting Half Moon Bay.

In volleyball action last weekend:

Menlo School breezed through the first three rounds of the Chris Chandler Invitational before falling to Monta Vista (Cupertino) in the final on Saturday in Atherton.

The Knights defeated St. Francis- Central Coast Catholic (25-14, 25-18) in the first round, then beat Monta Vista (25-14, 25-16) in the second round. Menlo did not give up a game to The King's Academy, winning 25-9, 25-10. In the final, Monta Vista avenged its earlier loss by defeating the Knights, 28-26, 12-25, 15-11.

Huber and Cairo earned all-tournament honors.

The six-team invitational brought together a strong field of Central Coast Section teams, including three 2010 CCS playoff contenders from divisions I, III and IV.

At City College of San Francisco, Castilleja went 2-3 in the NorCal D5 Showcase on Saturday while missing starters Lindsay Wang and Jessica Norum, both out with the flu.

The Gators opened with a 25-18, 25-15 win over Urban, lost to Ripon Christian, 22-25, 25-19, 15-13, topped College Prep, 25-22, 25-23, lost to Branson, 25-23, 25-21, and then fell again to Ripon Christian, 15-25, 25-20, 15-8.

Castilleja's Jen DiSanto and Lucy Tashman were selected to the all-tournament team.

At the Menlo-Atherton Invitational, the Bears finished second following an 18-25, 25-23, 15-4 loss to Sacred Heart Cathedral in the title match.

The Bears went 4-1 in the tourney after beating SHC in pool play along with Mountain View and Woodside. A 25-19, 25-20 win over San Benito-Hollister in the semifinals earned M-A a shot at the title.

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