By Rick Eymer
Palo Alto Online Sports
The Menlo-Atherton girls' volleyball team accomplished a lot last year and return most of the same players who helped the Bears reach their first Central Coast Section title game ever.
The Bears have won more games than they've lost this year, and there's still room for improvement. This time it was a need to answer thier first PAL Bay Division setback earlier in the week.
M-A went to work Thursday and responded with a hard-nosed 26-24, 25-19, 25-22 victory over host Aragon that puts the league title back in play.
"We knew we had a tough week coming into these matches," M-A's second year coach Jennifer Wilson said. "We did not match up well with Aragon last year and they play great defense. It was a struggle at first again and our receiving game crumbled."
As it turned out, it was a temporary problem. The Bears (3-1, 11-5) worked on finishing strong during Wednesday's practice and it took hold in the second set against the Dons.
Aragon drew within 18-17 but thanks in large part to senior outside hitter Regina Mullen and junior middle blocker Seini Moimoi, the Bears not only maintained their lead but drew away from the Dons.
The scenario was repeated in the third set when Aragon was within 19-18. M-A clamped down and finished strong.
"We had a lot of tough calls against Burlingame," said Mullen, who recorded a team-high 14 kills in two sets. "So we worked on finishing and I think this was a good first step. Our goal is to win the league title. Aragon is always tough for us. This might be the first time we beat them in three sets."
Moimoi, who finished with a remarkable 15 blocks, seemed to thrive on the in-your-face blocks she made. During one stretch, her blocks weren't going straight down; they were bouncing off body parts. It was an emphatic statement and sparked the likes of Mullen and senior Diane Seeley (six kills, three blocks).
Even sophomore Katelyn Doherty seemed to have a little extra muscle on her serves, which led to a run of points that put M-A ahead to stay in the second set. Junior libero Hannah Branning had 11 digs.
"We got more loose and comfortable," Wilson said. "We played as opposed to avoiding making mistakes. We were able to recover and we keep the lead."
The Bears play at Mills on Tuesday with another chance to separate themselves from the rest of the league. They remain a game behind league-leading Burlingame.
In other volleyball action Thursday:
Palo Alto kept its winning streak intact with a 25-14, 25-13, 25-17 victory over visiting Homestead in a SCVAL De Anza Division match. The co-leading Vikings (4-0) ran their season winning streak to 22-0 as a tough defense stifled the Mustangs.
Senior Trina Ohms led Paly with 14 kills (only two errors for a .571 hitting percentage) plus 10 digs. Junior Melanie Wade added 11 kills while hitting .400 and junior Maddie Kuppe finished with 10 kills and five digs. Junior setter Kimmy Whitson provided 36 assists and seven digs with junior Caroline Martin adding four kills while senior Megan Coleman had 13 digs and four aces.
Palo Alto will visit Los Gatos on Tuesday in a showdown between the only unbeaten teams in the division.
Los Gatos, meanwhile, hosted Sacred Heart Prep (10-7) on Thursday and handed the Gators a 20-25, 25-10, 25-21, 25-11 nonleague loss. Jesse Ebner had 11 kills and Sonia Abuel-Saud added 10 kills for Sacred Heart.
In San Francisco, Castilleja (20-2) tuned up for next week's West Bay Athletic League opener with a hard-fought 18-25, 29-27, 26-28, 26-24, 15-8 nonleague triumph over Lincoln (4-3).
Sophomore Lucy Tashman continued her recent improvement with another big outing of 18 kills, 20 digs and four aces. Senior Laura Rose added 14 kills and five blocks while junior Hannah Boland contributed 12 kills and nine blocks. All three players stand at least 6-feet tall. Hannah Hsieh dished out 45 assists to the big hitters while Lindsey Wang added 29 digs and three aces from her libero position.
In Atherton, host Menlo (8-6) dropped a tough 25-11, 24-26, 25-23, 18-25, 15-12 nonleague decision to Notre Dame-Belmont.
Menlo senior Jazmin Moledina hit .261 with eight kills, five digs and a career-best eight blocks, while freshman Maddie Huber had 12 kills, 16 digs and a career-best three blocks. Two of Huber's classmates also had strong performances: Melissa Cairo had a career-best (and Menlo season-high) 26 digs, and Maddy Frappier, a day after her 14th birthday, had nine kills, five digs and two blocks. Junior Natalie Roy had eight kills and a career-best 18 digs, and sophomore Alexandra Ko tallied 36 assists and a career-best 16 digs.
Menlo will host its invitational on Saturday, starting at 9 a.m.
Boys cross country
Menlo senior Sam Parker clocked 15:42 to win individual honors and help the Knights win the team title at the first WBAL meet of the season on Thursday over the 2.8-mile course at San Bruno Mountain Park.
Menlo placed four runners among the top team while scoring 40 points. Freshman Matt Myers was fourth (15:52), sophomre Andrew Schmitt was seventh (16:23) and senior Lowry Yankwich was ninth in 16:33.
Sacred Heart Prep junior Zach Kaplan was third overall in 15:52, helping the Gators finish third in the team race with 53 points. King's Academy was second with 44.
Girls cross country
Priory junior Kat Gregory ran away with the first race of the WBAL season, clocking 17:57 over the 2.8-mile course at San Bruno Mountain Park on Thursday. Castilleja senior Rachel Skokowski was second in 18:19.
Neither finish, however, helped their respective teams claim overall honors. Sacred Heart Prep won the team title with 65 points while Castilleja was sixth (125) and Priory eighth (161). Menlo was fourth with 121 points as freshman Maddie Price finished third individually in 18:53.
SHP was paced by Megan Holland, another freshman. She clocked 19:11 for fifth. Teammates Kathryn Leahy (20:02) and Elly Jones (20:02) were 11th and 12th, respectively.
Boys water polo
Sacred Heart Prep (2-1, 6-2) bounced back from a tough loss to St. Francis earlier in the week and swamped visiting St. Ignatius, 15-5, in West Catholic Athletic League action Thursday. Senior Philip Bamberg, who was held to a single goal in the loss to St. Francis, also bounced back and scored seven goals. Senior Robert Dunlevie added three goals for the Gators, who tallied eight times in the first quarter, enough to win the match. Sophomore goalie Will Runkel came up big with 17 saves.
In PAL Ocean Division action, host Priory got six goals from Michael Wan but still came up short in a 13-7 loss to visiting Terra Nova. The Tigers scored five times in the second quarter to pull away for a 7-2 halftime lead. Wan scored twice in the third and tallied all three of his team's goals in the final period. Terra Nova scored seven goals on 6-on-5 situations.
"We did better than I expected, doing a much better job on defense than we did against Half Moon Bay (a loss)," said Priory coach Rob Reinhardt. "We had several kids saying they weren't feeling so great, apparently something is going around at school. We were missing one of our starters, who was home sick, so we weren't playing at our best. But, we did great nonetheless."
Girls water polo
Sacred Heart Prep all but wrapped up the regular-season title in the WCAL with a 12-8 victory over host St. Ignatius on Thursday. The Gators improved to 3-0 in league (11-1 overall) while winning the important showdown that was a rematch of last season's Central Coast Section Division II championship match.
St. Ignatius was the last real roadblock for SHP on the way to the WCAL title. Pippa Temple once again led the Gators, this time with five goals. She has 13 goals in her past three games. Senior goalie Catherine Donahoe had 15 saves and even scored a goal after doing her work in the cage. Ally Flessel and Emily Parsons added two goals each for SHP.
The SCVAL De Anza Division match between Mountain View and host Palo Alto was not reported.