Paly, M-A play for their first CCS volleyball title


One thing is assured when the Palo Alto and Menlo-Atherton girls' volleyball teams meet in the Central Coast Section Division I championship match on Saturday at Independence High at 2:30 p.m.

The winner will make some school history, because neither team has ever won a section title in volleyball.

Both schools played for championships last season, with Paly losing to Mitty in Division II and M-A falling to Salinas in Division I.

By qualifying for the finale, both schools advanced to the NorCal playoffs last season and will do so again. Saturday's winner will host a first-round match on Tuesday (7 p.m.) while the runnerup will go on the road. The highest seeds will host throughout NorCals, with regional finals set for Nov. 30.

The state finals will be held Dec. 3 at The Event Center at San Jose State University.

The top-seeded Vikings and No 3-seeded Bears advanced to meet for the first time this season by posting semfinal victories on Thursday night.

Paly (36-1) had to survive a battle with No. 5 Carlmont before pulling out a 25-22, 26-28, 25-22, 31-29 victory. Menlo-Atherton (22-7) had a much easier time while posting a 25-15, 25-16, 25-17 win over No. 2 North Salinas. Both matches were played at Watsonville High.

"M-A has improved a LOT in the last year," said Paly coach Dave Winn. "We beat them in two at the Menlo tourney last year, but they are a completely different team now. Their setters are smooth, they have four legit attackers and have plenty of ball control. They will definitely give us our biggest test of the season tomorrow. Whoever wins will execute their serve and serve receive better. Both our teams have lots of offense."

The Vikings, who tied the school record for most single-season victories, were led by junior Melanie Wade's 24 kills (.388 hitting) and two blocks. Junior Maddie Kuppe added 11 kills, 10 digs and three blocks as she continued to produce more following a recent leg injury. Junior setter Kimmy Whitson added 47 assists with nine kills (.600 hitting) without an error. Junior Caroline Martin continued to play well with seven kills (.375 hitting) and 10 digs while senior Megan Coleman added 13 digs.

Wade and Kuppe had back-to-back kills to finish off the match after the Vikings fought off game points three times.

In the late match, Menlo-Atherton got big performances from Regina Mullen, Diane Seely and Seini Moimoi in upending North Salinas. Mullen led the way with 16 kills while Seely added seven. Sofi King contributed 20 assists plus eight digs for the Bears, who also got strong efforts from Hannah Branning and Katelyn Doherty.

In the Division V semifinals, top seed Castilleja (26-9) raced to an early 2-0 lead but then fell apart and dropped the next three games in a frustrating 19-25, 17-25, 25-22, 26-24, 15-9 loss to No. 4 Santa Catalina at Alma Heights School in Pacifica.

"Well, we had them in Game 3, up 18-11," said Castilleja coach Tracie Meskell. "Service and hitting errors let them back in and then we didn't pass very well. In Game 4 we were up 24-21 and couldn't close out the match and they won on two service aces."

Castilleja was missing two senior starters and Meskell said that hurt as the Gators were forced to go with three freshmen at times.

"Laura Rose, our second leading scorer, and Sophie Koontz were both out with injuries," Meskell said. "We had several freshman filling in and Lindsey Wang playing outside, but we were unable to overcome the late match surge by Santa Catalina, who really played their best in Games 4 and 5."

Junior Hannah Boland had to take over the middle with Rose gone and produced 14 kills and 10 blocks. Abby Thornburg, filling in for Rose, added seven kills. Sophomore Lucy Tashman contributed seven kills and six blocks while sophomore setter Hannah Hsieh finished with 33 assists and four aces. Clare Dreyfus added 18 digs while Wang added 21.

-- Keith Peters/Palo Alto Online Sports

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