Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - November 2, 2012

Historic start for the Bears

Menlo-Atherton's five league titles in the fall is its most ever

by Keith Peters

The Central Coast Section playoffs and championships are just around the corner for Menlo-Atherton, which has enjoyed plenty of success in the postseason over the years.

This fall season, however, is more special than anyone before it as the Bears have won five league titles. No group of M-A teams has ever done that in the 61-year history of the school.

The history-making began Oct. 23 when the M-A girls' tennis team, under the guidance of veteran coach Tom Sorenson, defeated host Woodside to finish with a 13-1 record and championship in the PAL Bay Division.

The success continued last Saturday when the girls' cross-country team and veteran coach Eric Wilmurt. Despite having five freshmen in the lineup, the Bears ran away with the PAL Championships at Crystal Springs in Belmont and ended Carlmont's streak of six straight titles.

On Tuesday, the Bears made history by capturing three league championships within just hours of each other. The boys' water polo team dunked host Woodside, 23-4, for its first league title since 1992. The girls' polo squad then held off host Castilleja, 8-7, to win its sixth straight PAL Bay Division crown. Finally, the girls' volleyball team cruised to a sweep of visiting Mills to improve to 13-0 and defend its PAL Bay Division title with one match (last night) remaining.

In addition, the M-A boys' cross-country team finished second at the league finals, the football team is tied for first place in the PAL Bay Division and Xin Fang competed in the Central Coast Section Girls Golf Championships on Tuesday and shot 77 — just missing a trip to the NorCal tournament.

No other group of M-A teams has ever been this successful at this time of year.

For M-A co-athletic directors Steve Kryger and Paul Snow, having something positive like this is just proof that good things are being done.

"I think there are a few main components to a successful high school athletic program," said Kryger, who came up with three.

"One. Dedicated/coachable student/athletes. You don't have to have the best individual players, but you have to have players who are willing to put the team before themselves. Athletes need to allow their coaches to teach/instruct and be willing to do things they may not be used to or comfortable with at first.

"Two. Coaches who are knowledgeable in their sport, coach because of the life lessons athletics teach, are able to relate to their players. A coach has to have a working knowledge of their sport and the ability to make practices fun, interesting, meaningful, productive. A coach who focuses on the team aspects and the life lessons will win many more games than they lose over their careers. We are very fortunate to have so many outstanding coaches across so many of our sports.

"Three. Support from parents/faculty/administrators. You can't under estimate how much this component enhances an athletic program. We have a tremendous amount of support from our parents and we have a number of faculty who coach and value athletics. We are also fortunate to have a

school administration that sees the long-term value to the student/athlete and the school as a whole in a successful athletic program. A successful athletic program can bring lots of school pride and enthusiasm to the community.

"I believe that right now, M-A has these attributes and it is our job as AD's to do everything we can to support our coaches and student/athletes so they can be successful on and off the playing field."

Added Snow: "I think Steve said it all. It also helps that we have two ADs and an extremely supportive Boosters that are able to fund additional coaching stipends that the district doesn't provide for us. Overall, I'd have to attribute success to our extremely dedicated and experienced coaching staff. We have several coaches with D-I playing experience and one (boys' water polo coach Dante Dettamanti) with several NCAA D-I titles as a water polo coach at Stanford."

Before Dettamanti arrived, Menlo School had dominated the PAL water polo scene with 19 straight titles. This season, the Bears beat Menlo, 11-10, for the first time in league play since 2002 and ended the lengthy drought of league titles.

The victory over Woodside was very routine as Dettamanti was able to give plenty of playing time to his reserves. Junior Dimitri Herr scored six goals while senior Connor Arrington and junior Jake Bassin added five for M-A, which finished 5-0 in PAL while evening its overall mark at 12-12.

While that game was finishing, the M-A girls' water polo team was on its way to keeping host Castilleja (3-2, 11-13) in second place. Junior Sophia Caryotakis tallied five goals for the Bears (5-0, 14-10), who are 39-0 in league matches since losing to Menlo School on Oct. 25, 2006.

Coach Chris Rubin told his players after the triumph: "The first goal for our season was to win a PAL championship and you did it. It's a huge accomplishment."

But, Rubin added: "We're not going to rest on a PAL championship."

One reason for that is the bar of expectations has been set high since the Bears became an annual contender for a CCS title. From 2007 to 2010, M-A reached the Division I title match all four years — winning in '07 and '10.

Menlo-Atherton fell in the semifinals last season and then graduated nine seniors. Rubin has only 10 players, including only one senior — Jenna Swartz. Thus, the Bears are young and have taken some lumps. Rubin, however, believes if his team can be more consistent and improve in a few areas, that the postseason might provide some interesting results.

Finishing off the day was the M-A volleyball team, which welcomed back four-year veteran Ali Spindt on Senior Night. Spindt, last season's league MVP who has missed most of the league season due to injury, had a solid performance to help the Bears wrap up the regular-season title.

Spindt made her return a good one with 26 assists, 17 digs and eight kills as M-A registered a 25-13, 25-7, 25-11 victory and improved to 13-0 in league (23-7).

"Ali looked good," said M-A first-year coach Ron Whitmill. "She was moving well and appeared to get through the match in pretty good shape. She was actually moving better as the match went on. So I think that is a good sign. Obviously, we will be moving forward very carefully with her and are continuing to take it game to game. But, as of now, we intend on her being available for a run at a CCS championship.

Pauli King added 13 kills and nine digs, Mele Moimoi contributed 13 digs, Ally Ostrow had six aces and nine digs and Katelyn Doherty added 18 digs and nine kills for the Bears.

Menlo-Atherton is 31-0 in league matches since last losing in October of 2010. Moreover, the Bears are part of some history-making this fall.

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