Palo Alto, SHP girls advance in NorCal volleyball playoffs

Menlo-Atherton girls, however, fall in Division I opener

For two of the three local girls' volleyball teams playing in the opening round of the Northern California playoffs on Tuesday night, it was just a routine evening.

Second-seeded Palo Alto advanced with a 25-14, 25-13, 25-13 victory over No. 7 Lincoln of San Francisco (19-12) in a Division I opener on the Vikings' court.

Sacred Heart Prep, seeded No. 2 in Division IV, also advanced easily with a 25-17, 25-16, 25-9 romp over No. 7 Sutter (38-11) in Atherton.

Both Palo Alto and Sacred Heart Prep will host NorCal semifinals on Saturday at 7 p.m. The Vikings (38-1) will take on No. 3 St. Francis-Sacramento (31-7) while the Gators (22-10) welcome No. 3 Marin Catholic (29-13), also at 7.

The winners will advance to the NorCal finals on Tuesday. Unless St. Mary's (Stockton) loses in Division I and Ripon falls in Division IV, both Paly and SHP will have to battle for a berth in the state finals on the road.

At Palo Alto, the Vikings rolled to an easy win behind junior Melanie Wade's 17 kills while once again raising the school record to single-season victories (38).

"Our girls played really well, and even the six girls I pulled up from the JV got in the match and made some good contributions," said Paly coach Dave Winn, whose team was elevated to No. 14 in the state this week by Cal-Hi Sports. This is the highest ranking in the team's history.

"We are definitely focused and determined to beat SF Sac on Saturday, and will be preparing hard over the Thanksgiving break to reach the next step."

Palo Alto was eliminated by St. Francis (Sac.) in last year's NorCal semifinals and thus will have the revenge factor in Saturday's match. On Tuesday, it was just a matter of advancing as easily as possible.

Lincoln, the San Francisco City champ, didn't have the height to match up with Paly's tall front line of the 6-foot-5 Wade, 6-2 Maddie Kuppe and 6-foot Trina Ohms. The Vikings, however, struggled with their serving in Game 1 despite holding an 18-12 lead. After discussing the service errors, Paly righted itself and rolled.

Paly will be making only its second appearance in the NorCal semifinals since 2000. The Vikings lost to St. Francis (Mountain View) that year.

In Atherton, SHP also got off slowly before picking up steam.

"We started off very slow!" said Gators' coach Damian Hardy. "I think we had a case of the first-round jitters. (But) We kept our passes on point and played great defense.

"A great crowd helped us battle through the first two sets. We finally got our defense to rurn into some offense and pull away in the third. Our serving was also tough."

Junior Sarah Daschbach led SHP with 12 kills, two aces and two blocks while sophomore Sonia Abuel-Saud had 13 digs and junior libero Olivia Bertolacci added 15 digs.

"Sutter put up a great fight," Hardy said. "They knew they had to play a great match and started out doing so. I think our crowd, defense, ball control and, eventually, our serving overwhelmed them."

Sacred Heart Prep, which was ranked No. 2 in the state Division IV poll this week by Cal-Hi Sports, will host a Marin Catholic team that swept No. 6 Golden Sierra on Tuesday, 25-21, 25-18, 25-18.

The Gators beat Marin Catholic in the first round last season before falling to Christian Brothers in the semifinals. This is only SHP's second appearance in the NorCal playoffs since 2001.

While Palo Alto and Sacred Heart Prep advanced, Menlo-Atherton did not -- despite what was listed at web site. Following the Bears' match with No. 4 Foothill in Pleasanton on Tuesday night, the No. 5 Bears were listed as 25-22, 29-27, 25-18 winners.

Unfortunately for Menlo-Atherton, the winner was listed incorrectly and the NCS champs actually had advanced.

The loss ended the prep careers of M-A seniors Regina Mullen, Diane Seely and Sofi King, who finished up 22-9 this season with a second straight appearance in the Central Coast Section finals. Mullen had nine kills while sophomore Ali Spindt contributed 12 digs.

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