By Keith Peters
Palo Alto Online Sports
Palo Alto girls' volleyball coach Dave Winn knew one very important thing before the season began – that his team would not be able to sneak up on anyone.
"We've been good the past few years, but somehow we managed to avoid radar detection until midseason," Winn said. "This year, there's no doubt we start the season with a target on our back."
That target just got a lot bigger this past weekend after the Vikings went 9-0 and captured the championship of the High Sierra Classic in Reno on Saturday.
"I was thoroughly impressed with how well our girls did on serve receive and by minimizing errors this early in the season," said Winn, whose players hit .383 as a team for the whole tournament. "It's good to know we're starting off this season with the same high expectations that we ended with last season."
Palo Alto went 36-5 last season, the most victories in school history. The Vikings opened the season 2-3 and then won 33 straight before losing to Mitty in the Central Coast Section finals. A loss to St. Francis (Sacramento) ended Paly's season.
The Vikings got a chance to avenge that loss to St. Francis by beating the Troubadors in the semifinals on Saturday, 25-18, 15-25, 15-11. Paly then soundly defeated Ripon (Modesto), 25-6, 25-15, for the title.
The championship, accomplished in a span of about 30 hours, is Palo Alto's fourth straight -- including last season's Harbor, Menlo and Spikefest II events.
Palo Alto junior middle blocker Melanie Wade and senior libero Megan Coleman were named to the all tournament team. The 6-foot-5 Wade had 85 kills, hit .511, served 10 aces and had 19 blocks. Coleman added 14 aces and 99 digs in the nine matches.
Junior outside hitter Maddie Kuppe had 57 kills with nine aces, five blocks and 35 digs. She hit .336. Senior outside hitter Trina Ohms provided 52 kills, seven aces and 38 digs while junior Caroline Martin had 22 kills and hit.391. Junior setter Kimmy Whitson contributed 21 kills (.457 hitting) with 167 assists and five aces while junior middle blocker Jackie Koenig added 19 kills while hitting .359.
Palo Alto opened with a 25-9, 25-5 win over Red Bluff and followed that with a 25-19, 25-18 win over Franklin (Elk Grove). A 25-19, 25-6 win over Wooster (Reno) was followed by a 25-7, 25-14 victory over Sonora. Pool play continued with a 25-20, 25-15 win over Damonte Ranch (Reno), a 25-9, 25-6 win over McQueen (Reno) and a 25-15, 25-16 victory over Yerington, another Nevada school.
Palo Alto will scrimmage at St. Francis (Mountain View) on Tuesday before visiting Westmont on Thursday. The Vikings will open their home season on Sept. 14 against Gunn in a nonleague match.
"The biggest challenge is to focus on just getting better every day and not trying to compare this season to any other," Winn said. "We'll need to harness all the experience we have from returning players and really seize this year's opportunity. I'd like to think our theme is 'carpe season.'"
The opportunity Winn was referring to is Paly's postseason status. Previously stuck in Division II of the Central Coast Section, the Vikings have moved to Division I based on increased enrollment. Thus, Paly no longer has to play perennial powers like Mitty or St. Francis – teams that usually knock the Vikings out of the section playoffs.
"Moving up to D1 definitely opens up postseason possibilities beyond what's expected in D2," Winn said. "But, we still have a lot to do between now and CCS."
Palo Alto bypassed the annual Spikefest I Tournament, which was held Saturday at Milpitas and Independence highs. The local area still was well-represented.
Sacred Heart Prep had the best local finish, taking seventh with a 3-2 record. After opening with 2-1 victories over Cupertino and Sacred Heart Cathedral, the Gators (4-2 overall) dropped a tough two-game match to Mitty and a three-game match to Notre Dame-Belmont. Sacred Heart rebounded to win its finale over Carlmont, two games to one.
Sacred Heart Prep was led by Sarah Daschbach with 31 digs and 43 kills while Sonia Abuel-Saud contributed 25 kills and 29 digs. Hanna Elmore set up the hitters with 63 assists and was supported by Amelia Alvarez, who added 59 assists while Oliva Bertolacci finished with 42 digs.
Menlo-Atherton had the next-best local finish as the Bears finished 15th overall out of 32 teams despite going 2-3. Menlo-Atherton beat Menlo School (22-25, 25-23, 15-13) and downed Valley Christian (25-21, 27-25). In between, the Bears lost to Clovis West, Los Gatos and Westmont.
"It was a tough day, but we learned a lot of lessons that we can build from and improve upon already," said M-A second-year coach Jen Wilson. "It was a great chance for us to test out some lineups and work through some kinks. Although the close losses were tough to swallow, they showed us that we're right in the thick of it and can only get better. "
Castilleja (5-1 overall) went 4-1 in the Spikefest and won the Red Division, but finished 17th overall after losing its opening match to Notre Dame-Belmont in two games. The Gators then beat San Mateo (2-1), Milpitas (2-0), Burlingame (2-1) and Menlo School (2-1).
"We passed well and hit well," said Castilleja coach Tracie Meskell. "We won our games executing the little things like passing, serving, controlling the ball during rallies and broken plays. I am very pleased with the team and feel we have a great foundation to start from for the rest of the season."
Standout players for Castilleja were Lindsey Wang (defense and serving) and Laura Rose and Hannah Bolland (hitting and blocking).
Menlo School went 3-2 in the tourney at Independence High and finished 18th overall.
"Overall, our girls did a lot of very good things, and really started the season off on the right foot," said Menlo coach Chris Crader. "We had two tough losses, but we can learn a lot from them, and from all the good stuff we did. It was a really positive starting point for us to build from."
Menlo opened the tournament with a narrow loss to Menlo-Atherton, 22-25, 25-23, 15-13. Knight senior Jazmin Moledina hit .455 with seven kills and three blocks, and freshman Maddie Huber made her high school debut with seven kills, six digs and a .316 hitting percentage. Sophomore Alexandra Ko hit .714 with five kills, five digs and 24 assists, and classmate Kendyl Denenberg added eight digs. Freshmen Melissa Cairo and Maddy Frappier also made their debuts, with nine digs and four kills, respectively.
Menlo responded to the tough defeat with three straight victories. First the Knights beat St. Thomas More, 25-17, 25-13. Frappier had six kills, junior Natalie Roy hit .556 with five kills and five digs, and senior Anelise Hohl hit .500 with three kills and two aces.
The Knights then edged past Gunn, 30-28, 26-24. Moledina hit .400 with six kills and three blocks to lead the way. Roy had four kills and seven digs, and Frappier also had four kills. Cairo chipped in with 12 digs and Huber added eight digs and three blocks.
Menlo then defeated Crystal Springs, 25-21, 25-14, opening up a 19-2 lead in the second game behind the serving of Denenberg and Frappier.
Menlo ran out of gas in the day's final match, falling to Castilleja, 20-25, 25-19, 15-10. Huber led the Knights with seven kills and nine digs, and Cairo also had nine digs. Roy added seven kills and four digs.
Gunn also went 3-2 at the Spikefest. The Titans (4-2 overall) lost their opener to Presentation (25-17, 25-10) but bounced back to beat Van Nuys (16-25, 25-12, 15-6 behind Julia Magioncalda's eight kills.
After the loss to Menlo, Gunn downed San Benito (25-11, 25-16) and defeated Los Altos (25-16, 29-27) as Kiana Choroski had 13 kills combined in the two victories.