Sports

Castilleja volleyball is off to an 18-2 start after winning tourney title

 

By Keith Peters

Palo Alto Online Sports

In her eight years of coaching volleyball at Castilleja, head coach Tracie Meskell has never had a team go 18-2 in its first 20 matches. Not until now, anyway.

How that translates into postseason success is anyone's guess, however, because Meskell has enjoyed plenty of it despite her team's record.

In 2006, for example, Castilleja started the season with a 7-13 record and finished 22-18 after losing in the CIF Division V state finals. In 2008, the Gators went 9-11 in their first 20 matches and wound up winning the Division V state crown despite finishing with a record of just 18-16.

This season's start, of course, is something special.

"We are off to a good start because the team, as a whole, is starting with stronger basic fundamentals," Meskell said. "Our passing, serving, and defense is as strong, if not stronger, than where we left off at the end of last season."

Castilleja reached the NorCal semifinals in 2009 before losing and finishing 18-19 overall, the only time the Gators have had a losing record under Meskell.

"A lot of the girls who don't play club worked (out) in the offseason, so they weren't so rusty at the beginning of the season," Meskell said of this year's fast start. "We also have the strongest two middles (Hannah Boland and Laura Rose) we have ever had, which has helped open up the outside hitters. We have a very balanced attack and when combined with our strong passing, it has really made a big difference right from the beginning."

Castilleja was as its best this past weekend as the Gators went 5-0 in the NorCal D5 Showcase while winning the one-day tournament at University High in San Francisco.

Castilleja won every match in two sets, capped by a 25-22, 25-21 triumph over Branson in the championship. Branson won last season's CIF Division V state championship, after knocking off Castilleja in the NorCal semifinals. Thus, it was sweet revenge for the Gators, who were denied of possibly reaching the state finals for a second straight season.

Junior Lindsey Wang, who was a freshman on Castilleja's state championship team in '08, was named the Most Valuable Player in Saturday's tournament, producing 67 digs -- including 20 against Branson. Sophomore Lucy Tashman made the all-tournament team after registering 34 kills (11 against Branson) with 30 digs. Sophomore Hannah Hsieh also made the all-tourney team after producing 86 assists and eight aces. Boland added 30 kills and 19 blocks while Rose contributed 11 blocks and 22 kills.

Castilleja will have two more nonleague matches this week before heading into a tough West Bay Athletic League season next week. No matter how her teams start or finish in league, however, Meskell always gets the Gators to the NorCal playoffs. Castilleja has been there seven straight years.

The last time the Gators failed to reach NorCals was in 2002, when Tristan Burton was the head coach. Castilleja started the season with a 19-1 mark (best ever for 20 matches) but lost in the Central Coast Section semifinals while finishing with a 36-3 record -- still the best in school history.

Castilleja already is halfway there, but would have to nearly run the table in the WBAL season or sweep through the postseason to get past 37 wins for the first time in school history. The 2005 Castilleja team also won 36 games (with seven losses) while losing in the state finals.

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