The Vikings will be playing in the prestigious Mitty Invitational on Friday and Saturday, a national event featuring four teams ranked among the nation's top 25.
While Palo Alto did play in this tournament in 2001, the Vikings were big underdogs then. Not now.
"We got the No. 1 overall seed!" said Paly coach Dave Winn. "If there was any doubt before, it's gone now . . . the target is squarely on our backs!"
Palo Alto (11-0) comes in ranked No. 4 nationally in the MaxPreps Xcellent 25. Second-seeded Cardinal Gibbons (Raleigh, N.C.) is No. 5 in the same poll while third-seeded Dos Pueblos (Goleta) is No. 12 and Presentation (San Jose) is No. 24.
"This is definitely a huge honor for us and we're going to work very hard in this tournament to learn against some of the best teams in the country," Winn said.
The top-seeded Vikings will open on Friday against No. 16 seeded Santa Ynez at 4 p.m. That winner will face either No. 8 Frontier or No. 9 Santa Barbara at 8 p.m.
Should Palo Alto advance to Saturday, it could face No. 4 Presentation in a rematch of last week's five-set showdown won by Paly. That match would be at noon. Another possible opponent could be No. 5 Santa Margarita.
Three wins would put Palo Alto in the championship match at 6 p.m. The opposite bracket features Cardinal Gibbons, Dos Pueblos, No. 6 St. Francis (Mountain View) and No. 7 Mitty, among others.
Palo Alto will bring a record-tying 26-match winning streak —dating to last season — into the Mitty tourney. The Vikings first established the school record of 26 straight wins to open last season.
The streak certainly will be in jeopardy this weekend.
"No easy opponents in the Mitty tourney," said Winn, whose team tuned up with a hard-fought five-set victory over Sacred Heart Prep on Tuesday night. "Every match will be like playing SHP or better. What makes it hard is the 3/5 (best of five) format. So, we'll have to figure out a way to stay fresh, close out sets when we can and adapt faster than our opponents."
Most tournaments feature best-of-three matches, but the Mitty tourney reflects the toughest conditions possible against some of the toughest opposition the Vikings will face this season.
Palo Alto is getting used to facing tough competition though, having played five-set matches in its past two outings.
"Both the Pres (Presentation) and last night's SHP match took a lot of energy out of us," Winn said. "But, we were physically prepared for it. Those matches also have given us confidence to come back if we ever find ourselves behind again."
The Vikings kept their perfect season intact by rallying from a two-set deficit to pull off a thrilling nonleague victory over visiting Sacred Heart Prep in a battle between two 2010 state finalists on Tuesday night.
The Vikings overcame five match points in the fourth set and got a clinching kill from senior Jackie Koenig in the deciding set to post a 20-25, 16-25, 25-13, 27-25, 15-11 triumph over the Gators (6-3), who finished second in the CIF Division IV state finals last season.
Senior Melanie Wade produced 19 kills to pace Palo Alto, which took some advice from Winn to get untracked.
"We just relaxed," Paly coach Dave Winn set of the turnaround third set. "I tried to remind our team to start having fun and let the results take care of themselves. We cruised in the third set while taking on that attitude and SHP started making errors.
"The fourth set was just two good teams both playing well, but a few too many missed serves by us got us down 24-20. We made a miraculous save on a dig to force a hitting error out of SHP. We tied it at 24 (saving four match points), then again at 25. We went on to win 27-25 and carried that momentum into set five."
Winn said the first two sets were a result of "SHP playing their hearts out, with us executing OK, but not good enough. Their passing, setting and hitting out-ranked ours the first two sets, but not because of lack of effort on our side. They (the Gators) were just dang good and very scrappy on defense."
Junior Sonia Abuel-Saud led SHP with 17 kills and 24 digs while senior Sarah Daschbach added 12 kills and 14 digs. Junior Ellie Shannon finished with 12 kills, senior Olivia Bertolacci had 25 digs while Jojo Kurtzman and Cammie Merten contributed 26 and 20 assists, respectively.
In other volleyball action Tuesday, Castilleja won on the road with a 25-17, 23-25, 25-14, 25-22 nonleague victory over Live Oak. Hannah Boland led the Gators (4-3) with 13 kills and 11 blocks, Lindsey Wang contributed 13 kills and Hannah Hsieh finished with 30 assists and four aces.
On Wednesday, sophomore Maddy Frappier had 11 kills and eight digs to help Menlo School defeat host Sequoia, 25-12, 25-21, 28-26. Freshman setter Elisa Merten contributed 16 assists as the Knights improved to 10-2.
Last weekend, Menlo won all four of its matches in a near-sweep to capture the 13-team Del Mar Tournament title in San Jose.
The Knights opened with a 25-6, 25-11 victory over tournament host Del Mar before dispatching South San Francisco, 25-11, 25-18. Menlo then topped Mills, 25-5, 25-19. In the finale, the Knights beat Los Altos, 23-25, 25-19, 15-9 to claim the championship.
Emma Thygesen had 31 kills while Natalie Roy added 29 for Menlo.
In Portola Valley, Priory captured its own Panther Invitational by sweeping all four matches on the weekend. The Panthers (5-0) opened with a 2-0 win over St. Thomas More, and followed that with 2-0 victories over St. Lawrence and Providence Hall. Priory capped the tourney with a 2-1 victory over Burton.
Junior Clara Johnson, junior Briana Willhite and sophomore Marine Hall-Poirier all had standout weekends while helping Priory to the title.
In the Fresno area, Gunn compiled a 5-2 record over the two-day Central California Classic and wound up ninth after going 3-0 after the opening day. The Titans were forced to a third set in each match on Saturday.
This weekend, Gunn will travel to Harbor High School in Santa Cruz for its first-ever appearance in the Harbor Invitational tournament.