If there was one team that Palo Alto girls' volleyball coach Dave Winn feared heading into the SCVAL De Anza Division season, it probably was Los Gatos. Winn knew the Wildcats would be a formidable foe.
The first showdown between the teams arrived Tuesday night. Both teams came in undefeated in division play, with Los Gatos ranked No. 36 in the state by MaxPreps.com and Palo Alto ranked No. 21. The Vikings also are ranked No. 74 in the nation (overall) and No. 15 in the state for Division I teams.
In addition to their lofty ranking, the Vikings' perfect record was at stake. That record and ranking, however, are safe following a grueling four-game victory by Paly.
"This was a very big win for earning the inside track toward the De Anza league title for 2010," Winn said following his team's 19-25, 25-14, 25-19, 28-26 triumph on the Wildcats' home floor.
Palo Alto improved to 5-0 in league and 23-0 overall and remains the only unbeaten team among the state's top 25 squads. Harvard-Westlake i No. 1 for all divisions at 10-1 while La Costa Canyon is No. 2 at 12-1. Presentation is the top Central Coast Section team, ranked No. 4 with a 17-2 mark heading into this week.
Paly, however, is the No. 1 Division I team in the CCS and showed why after a shaky start on Tuesday. The Vikings squandered a 17-11 lead in Game 1 and lost. Paly bounced back convincingly in Game 2 and took a 19-9 lead. Game 3 was close, but Paly junior Melanie Wade produced some key blocks to give her team a 22-18 lead that held up. In Game 4, Paly never led until earning match point at 27-26. After a long rally, the Los Gatos middle attacker touched the net to give the Vikings the victory.
Wade finished with 21 kills while hitting .588 (only one hitting error). She also had four digs and four assists. Senior Trina Ohms added 16 kills and three digs while junior setter Kimmy Whitson had 38 assists and seven digs. Juniors Maddie Kuppe (eight kills, six aces, 22 digs) and Caroline Martin (five kills, nine assists) also stood out along with senior Megan Coleman (18 digs, three aces).
Palo Alto has a bye on Thursday before closing out the first half of division play next Tuesday by hosting Saratoga.
In San Jose, Castilleja opened its West Bay Athletic League (Foothill Division) season with a closer-than-expected 21-25, 26-24, 13-25, 25-19, 15-6 triumph over host Harker. The Gators (1-0, 22-2) got 16 kills from Laura Rose, 12 kills from fast-improving Abby Thornburg, 23 digs and three aces from Lindsey Wang and 36 assists from Hannah Hsieh.
Castilleja will put its 11-match winning streak on the line Thursday at defending division champion Mercy-Burlingame at 6:15 p.m.
In Atherton, host Sacred Heart Prep (1-0, 11-7) also opened WBAL (Foothill Division) action with a 25-19, 25-19, 17-25, 25-13 victory over Notre Dame-San Jose. Jesse Ebner produced 19 kills for the Gators while Sarah Daschbach had 18 digs. Amelia Alvarez and Hanna Elmore each contributed 23 assists to the triumph.
In Cupertino, Gunn (5-0, 17-4) continued to roll in the SCVAL El Camino Division as the first-place Titans swept the Pioneers, 25-14, 25-9, 25-22, despite having a short bench due to illness and injuries.
The Gunn offense was extremely balanced on the evening, with Kiana Choroski and Allison Doerpinghaus each notching nine kills, Adrienne Thom getting eight and Molly McAdam seven. Monica Cai had 33 assists on the evening with eight digs, while Julia Li had 21 digs.
In Los Altos Hills, Pinewood opened its WBAL (Skyline Division) season with a 25-14, 25-13, 25-17 loss to King's Academy. The host Panthers hit only .032 as a team. Middle blocker Elizabeth Fields had four kills, but worked against a triple block most of the evening. Adrienne Whitlock (eight assists, two blocks) and Lindsay Riches each had six digs while Pinewood had 10 blocks as a team.
In East Palo Alto, Priory (1-0, 13-3) opened WBAL (Skyline Division) action with a 25-9, 25-19, 25-9 win at Eastside Prep (0-1, 7-1). Sparky Barkmann had six kills and three blocks for Priory while teammate Katie Taylor had 10 digs and three kills. Charlotte Tenisi led Eastside Prep with six kills.
In Millbrae, Menlo-Atherton swept host Mills in PAL Bay Division action, 25-14, 25-11, 25-16. The Bears (4-1, 11-6) got 15 assists and seven digs from Sofi King plus five kills and seven blocks from Diane Seely.