Seniors Ellie Shannon and Payton Smith provided a huge one-two punch for Sacred Heart Prep on Wednesday night as the Gators advanced to the Division IV final for a fourth straight year, sweeping neighborhood rival Menlo School.
Shannon and Smith combined for 16 kills and 10 blocks as No. 2-seeded Gators prevailed, 25-16, 25-17, 25-10. SHP will face top-seeded Harbor (30-5) in Saturday's championship match at Independence High in San Jose at 4:30 p.m. Both teams also have earned berths in next week's CIF NorCal playoffs.
The win over No. 3 Menlo (23-10) came two weeks after the Gators lost to the Knights on the same floor, giving Menlo a share of the West Bay Athletic League (Foothill Division) title. SHP players said that four-game loss helped motivate them in Wednesday's rematch.
"I don't like to lose the rivalry match," said SHP coach Damien Hardy. "It's a huge rivalry we have to win; I don't like losing anyway."
Sacred Heart began the match on a 12-3 run with senior Sonia Abuel-Saud providing two kills. Abuel-Saud finished the game with eight kills and 10 digs. Menlo had no answer as the Gators took the first game.
The second game was controlled by Shannon and Smith. The duo combined for eight kills.
The third game started out in similar fashion for the Gators as they began with an impressive 14-4 run. At one point during the run, Sacred Heart scored 12 points in a row, with Smith contributing four kills. Abuel-Saud spiked the last two balls to give the Gators the win.
Victoria Garrick added 10 kills and nine digs to the SHP attack with Helen Gannon producing 20 digs and fellow senior Cammie Merten adding 30 assists.
Menlo junior Maddie Huber, who has 301 kills on the season, was held to just seven kills by Sacred Heart's tough defense.
"Tonight, we just could not pass the ball," said Menlo coach Atlee Hubbard, who lost sophomore setter Elisa Merten to a foot injury in Game 2.
Sacred Heart Prep, meanwhile, moves on with hopes of reaching the state finals for the first time since 2010. Harbor, however, will provide a tough test Saturday.
"We have to stay focused," said Shannon. "When we lose our energy we're definitely not as strong as when we have it. We have to keep that energy."
"Harbor is another tough team," said Hardy. "We need to play how we did tonight. If our kids listen to what we tell them to do, we play a good game."
After SHP takes on Harbor in the Division IV finals, Menlo-Atherton will take the court for a fourth straight appearance in the Division I finals. The No. 3-seeded Bears (26-7) are still looking for their first section title.
M-A will take on No. 4 Homestead (23-8) at 7 p.m. The Mustangs opened the door for the Bears with a shocking sweep of two-time defending state champion Palo Alto.
The Bears now need to take advantage after eliminating No. 2 Salinas, 25-9, 25-19, 20-25, 21-25, 15-8, in the semifinals at Santa Clara High on Wednesday night.
Senior Ali Spindt had 22 kills plus 29 assists while junior Pauli King added 18 kills to pace M-A. Both players battled back from injuries during the regular season, with Spindt missing much of the PAL Bay Division campaign.
While both players were sidelined, senior Katelyn Doherty helped carry the team. It was a role she provided against Salinas (23-9) with 10 kills, 29 assist and 23 digs. Virginia Lane also stood out with 27 digs.
In the deciding game, Doherty fed King for a kill and 13-7 lead with Spindt appropriately finishing it off with back-to-back kills.
In the second Division I semifinal at Santa Clara, Palo Alto lost an opportunity to play for a third straight section crown by being swept by Homestead, 25-20, 27-25, 25-17. The top-seeded Vikings (28-7) had beaten the Mustangs twice during the SCVAL De Anza Division season and at Spikefest II.
Paly had a chance to win Game 2 with the match deadlocked at 24, but a serving error opened the door for the Mustangs to pull it out. In Game 3, the Vikings led by 10-3 before Homestead went on a 22-7 run.
"Sometimes the planets just don't align and your team doesn't play its best when they need to," said Paly coach Dave Winn. "Certainly, Homestead played great, but we had one our worst passing and digging nights from several of our players. Homestead had a lot to do with that by them minimizing errors, but I think a lot of Paly players will feel like they didn't have their best mental or physical performance.
"I'm confident that our underclassmen will be using this match as motivation to improve through their club seasons and come back next year even more determined to put Paly back into the CCS finals again."
Co-captains Shelby Knowles and Sophia Bono, the team's only seniors, did what they could to keep the Vikings in the match on an off passing night. Knowles had 17 kills and 12 digs with Bono contributing 29 assists. Junior Keri Gee finished with 18 digs.
Knowles played four years on teams with a combined record of 141-16, the second-best four-year mark in school history. Teams from 2008-11 went 146-16.
In Division V, No. 2-seeded Priory (20-8) returned to the finals for a second straight year with a 25-16, 25-22, 25-23 semifinal win over No. 3 Santa Catalina at St. Francis-Central Coast Catholic in Watsonville.
Junior Marine Hall-Poirier led the Panthers with 16 kills, 16 digs and three aces and senior Briana Willhite added nine kills, three blocks and hit .474. Emily Tonogai and Michaela Koval provided 16 and 14 digs, respectively.
Priory will be looking for its first CCS title since 2004.
The Panthers fell to Castilleja in last year's Division V title match and were hoping for a rematch. The scenario didn't pan out as the No. 4 Gators (17-16) were eliminated by No. 1 Notre
Dame-Salinas, 26-24, 23-25, 25-22, 25-21, in the other semifinal.
Senior outside hitter Lucy Tashman led the Gators with 20 kills and 23 digs.