By Keith Peters
Palo Alto Online Sports
Palo Alto was headed toward the best girls' volleyball season in school history a year ago when the Vikings' campaign was abruptly halted in the semifinals of the Northern California playoffs. Palo Alto lost to St. Francis (Sacramento), finishing the season 36-5.
It's a year later and the Vikings are enjoying THE best season in school history with a 38-1 record and their first Central Coast Section title ever. Palo Alto once again will face St. Francis (Sacramento) in the semifinals of the NorCal playoffs, this time in Division I.
This time, however, the Vikings will be playing at home and are seeded No. 2 while St. Francis-Sac (31-7) is No. 3.
"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," said Palo Alto coach Dave Winn. "They are an opponent we know, so I guess that could benefit us. Plus, they knocked us out of the NorCal playoffs last year, so I think my girls will be very motivated to return the favor to them."
Because Palo Alto is the No. 2 NorCal seed, however, a victory on Saturday means a road trip for the NorCal finals next Tuesday.
"So, yeah, if we get past SF-Sac and have to travel to Stockton to play St. Mary's, it's certainly more challenging," Winn said. "But, getting to a state championship is supposed to be hard! We'll do our best."
Palo Alto wasn't at its best on Tuesday night in its NorCal opener at home, but the Vikings didn't need to be during a 25-14, 25-13, 25-13 victory over No. 7 Lincoln of San Francisco (19-12).
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 Winn, whose team was elevated to No. 14 in the state this week in the Freeman rankings on MaxPreps.com. This is the highest ranking in the team's history.
Lincoln, the San Francisco City champ, didn't have anyone 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 the finals.
In another NorCal opener on Tuesday, 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.
Sacred Heart Prep (22-10) will host a NorCal semifinal on Saturday at 7 p.m., against No. 3 Marin Catholic (29-13). The Gators will need to start a little faster than they did Tuesday.
"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 first listed at www.cifstate.org 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.