Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - December 13, 2013

Loss in state volleyball ends Menlo's winning season

by Keith Peters

A season that started back on Sept. 5 with a victory over rival Menlo-Atherton and lasted more than three months, finally came to an end for the Menlo School girls volleyball team last weekend at the CIF Division IV state championship match at Santiago Canyon College in Orange County.

And while the outcome wasn't what the Knights wanted — a 21-25, 30-28, 25-15, 25-16 loss to defending champion Francis Parker — it nonetheless did not ruin a remarkable achievement this season by Menlo.

"I think everybody was a little disappointed about not winning," said Menlo first-year coach Steve Cavella. "At the same time, I think everybody was proud about what we accomplished this season."

The NorCal champion Knights (32-6) finished the season with the most single-season wins in school history while reaching the state finals for a fifth time — dropping to 0-5 in those title matches — while finishing the season on a 26-2 run.

Francis Parker (29-5) finished with its second straight Division IV state title — the Lancers beat Sacred Heart Prep last year — and the eighth overall in school history.

Menlo looked in good shape early on as it used a 7-2 run to take a 16-12 lead in the first set. The Lancers got to within 23-21 before kills by seniors Maddy Frappier and Maddie Huber put Menlo into the lead.

The Knights took a 5-1 lead in the second set behind three kills by senior Morgan Dressel and eventually held a 24-18 lead on an ace by Huber. Menlo, however, could not close out the match as Francis Parker went on a 6-0 run to tie the match at 24.

After five more ties, the Lancers pulled out a 30-28 win and grabbed momentum for the remainder of the match.

"We were up 24-18 in Game 2," acknowledged Cavella, "and then things just fell apart . . . We faced a really talented team in the state finals. You have to give Francis Parker a lot of credit for not giving up."

Menlo was never the same after the second set, falling behind by 20-7 in the third set and 10-1 in the fourth before rallying in both to avoid a rout. Menlo was led by junior Lida Vandermeer's 15 kills, 11 from Dressel and 10 by sophomore Maddie Stewart. Junior Elisa Merten finished with 37 assists, Frappier had 19 digs and senior Melissa Cairo was Menlo's recipient of the Sportsmanship Award.

"Morgan and Maddie did a great job in the middle and Cairo played great defense," Cavella said.

Despite several injuries to players who missed significant time during the season, the Knights demonstrated resolve from its senior captains Cairo, Dressel and Huber and heightened play from the younger players.

"The best surprise was the play of our underclassmen," Cavella said. "I thought Maddie Stewart, Jessica Houghton, Olivia Pellarin and others really did a great job this year."

Vandermeer and Merten were starters at the beginning of the season and played well the whole year.

Seven seniors — Cairo, Dressel, Huber, Sarah Bruml, Sloan Cinelli, Frappier and Kate Gilhuly — boosted the Knights to their historic run.

Huber, bound for Princeton, finished the year with more than 300 kills. Cairo had 523 digs on the year and Merten finished with 1,087 assists.

Among the many standouts for Francis Parker was senior libero Sarah Benjamin, who is headed for Stanford next fall.

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