By Keith Peters
Palo Alto Online Sports
Kimmy Whitson had birthdays before, 16 of them in fact. They've all included cake, balloons and a chorus of "Happy Birthday." Her 17th was similar in that respect, with one big addition – a Central Coast Section championship.
Whitson celebrated twice on Saturday as the top-seeded Palo Alto girls' volleyball team captured the CCS Division I title with a 25-17, 25-19, 25-14 victory over No. 3 Menlo-Atherton at Independence High in San Jose.
Whitson first enjoyed the postgame celebration on the floor, which included hoisting the first-ever CCS trophy in Paly volleyball history. Then it was off to the cupcakes and balloons and the singing.
"What a present," said Paly coach Dave Winn. Whitson had to agree.
"It's so exciting," Whitson said. "We get a banner and, to be the team that made it happen is really special."
Palo Alto (37-1), which also set a school record for most single-season victories after setting the mark with a 36-5 record last season, made the championship happen with all-around team play that hadn't been seen in nearly six weeks.
Palo Alto welcomed back 6-foot-2 junior Maddie Kuppe to the front row after she had been sidelined with a leg injury. Winn had nursed her along, sitting her for four weeks.
"I couldn't risk a stress fracture," he said.
Palo Alto played some 15 matches without Kuppe being in her normal position or even on the court. Amazingly, the Vikings only dropped the one match to Los Gatos in SCVAL De Anza Division play. Having Kuppe back on Saturday changed everything.
"It was the first time everyone was together since the end of September," Winn said. "We weathered the storm, through all the injuries . . . We felt like we were ourselves again."
Palo Alto never allowed M-A any momentum, even after the Bears grabbed a 5-1 lead in Game 2. Junior Melanie Wade served three of her six aces, the last one tying the match at 6. Senior Megan Coleman served an ace for 9-7 and Kuppe did likewise for a 12-8 lead. The Vikings continued to serve well, closing out the game with an ace.
Game 3, much like Game 1, was all Palo Alto. Caroline Martin served up a 4-0 lead, a kill by Kuppe made it 10-3, senior Trina Ohms aced the Bears for a 17-11 lead and Whitson blocked for a 19-12 bulge. It was over as quickly as it had started.
"I knew we could play that well, just not on the big stage," Winn said. "When we play that well, I don't think anyone can beat us."
Wade finished with 10 kills (hitting .421) with four digs and two blocks plus her six aces. Kupple contributed 11 kills (.300) with three aces, two blocks and two digs. Ohms added seven kills and six digs while Martin had five kills and seven digs. Whitson had 32 assists, seven digs and two blocks, senior Megan Coleman finished with 18 digs and junior Jackie Koenig had three kills and three blocks, including the match-winning solo block.
"It just wasn't the Melanie show today," said Winn, who walked onto the court following the final point with his arm's upraised. "I've been thinking about this for a long time. I'm going to cherish it."
His players will, too, but they just didn't show it that much in the postgame celebration. There was no dog pile and Winn didn't get any bucket of water dumped on him. Perhaps it was because the Vikings know the journey is not complete.
"We just made history, but I think they realize there's more," Winn said. "They're very goal-driven kids. We're really hungry to make it to state."
Palo Alto will be back on the floor Tuesday, hosting a NorCal first-round match against No. 7 seed Lincoln of San Francisco (19-11). Fifth-seeded Menlo-Atherton (22-8), meanwhile, will visit No. 4 Foothill of Pleasanton (34-4).
The Vikings, however, surprisinginly received only the No. 2 seed, which means two victories will send them (most likely) on the road to face St. Mary's of Stockton in the NorCal finals on Nov. 30. St. Mary's (29-8) would have to lose in order for Paly to host the championship match.
The state finals are at San Jose State on Dec. 4 at 7 p.m.
"We want to go to state," Whitson said. "We've had goals a long the way. This (CCS title) was one of them."
CCS Division IV
Fourth-seeded Sacred Heart Prep (21-10) avenged an early season nonleague loss by upsetting No. 2 Notre Dame-Belmont to successfully defend its section title on Saturday.
The Gators raced to an early lead before rallying for a 25-18, 25-22, 17-25, 22-25, 15-13 victory. It was Sacred Heart Prep's 12th section volleyball title in school history, the second in Division IV.
With the match down to the final game, the Gators grabbed a 10-6 lead before Notre Dame rallied to go up 12-11. A kill by SHP sophomore Sonia Abuel-Saud put her team back on top 14-13, and a ball hit out of bounds gave SHP the win.
Abuel-Saud had 16 kills and 15 digs while junior Sarah Daschbach added 12 kills and 31 digs for the Gators. Junior setter Amelia Alvarez had 24 assists while junior Jesse Ebner added 10 kills and five blocks.
Sacred Heart Prep received the No. 2 seed in the NorCal Division IV playoffs and will host No. 7 Sutter (38-10) on Tuesday at 7 p.m. A victory will move the Gators to Saturday's semifinals and a home match against the winner of No. 3 Marin Catholic (28-13) and No. 6 Golden Sierra (21-12).