Paly, SHP girls win NorCal volleyball titles

Vikings and Gators will play for state championships on Saturday at San Jose State

By Rick Eymer

Palo Alto Online Sports

Sacred Heart Prep junior Jesse Ebner took a look at the all the championship banners adorning the walls inside the school's gymnasium and felt something was missing from the girls' volleyball banner.

No state championship appearances since 1998 and no state titles since 1996.

The Gators took the first step in rectifying the missing data when they beat visiting Notre Dame of Belmont, 19-25, 14-25, 25-14, 25-16, 15-9, Tuesday night to claim the Northern California Division IV championship.

The next step could come as soon as Saturday when Sacred Heart Prep (24-10) meets La Jolla Country Day (23-4) for the state title at the San Jose State Event Center at noon. La Jolla is the No. 1 Division IV team in the state while SHP is No. 2, according to the updated Freeman Rankings on

La Jolla also is ranked No. 5 in California in the overall rankings, while SHP is No. 37. Top-seeded La Jolla beat No. 2 Santa Fe Christian in the SoCal finals, 25-20, 25-19, 25-21.

Sacred Heart Prep, though, is looking forward to the challenge after a thrilling victory.

"Last year's team ended the CCS (losing) streak," Ebner said. "It was our time to get back to the state tournament."

Sacred Heart went 11 years between CCS titles from 1998 to 2009. The late '80s and '90s were kind to the Gators as they won 10 of 11 CCS titles between 1988 and 1998, missing only in 1989. Then came the 10-year drought.

The Gators also ended a seven-match losing streak to Notre Dame last year, which dated to 2000. Sacred Heart is 4-3 in its past seven meetings with the Tigers.

Sacred Heart Prep won the state title in 1995 and 1996, and was the NorCal champ on four other occasions (1991, '92, '93 and '98).

"We talked a lot about that this week in practice," Ebner said. "We take so much pride in our team and our school that we wanted to come back from last year and do something amazing."

It was only fitting that the Gators and Notre Dame met for the chance to play for a state title. The Tigers and Sacred Heart Prep also dueled for the Central Coast Section title about 10 days ago at Independence High in San Jose.

The Gators prevailed in five sets in that contest. Notre Dame won two previous nonconference matches during the season. This time Sacred Heart made it a little more difficult on itself, dropping the first two games in excruciatingly frustrating fashion.

After dropping the second game, the Gators fled the gymnasium for the brief three-minute intermission and pulled themselves together just in the nick of time.

"I knew after that meeting in the hall we could turn it around," said SHP junior Sarah Daschbach. "We were almost embarrassed with our effort. Our motivation mostly came from our coach, Damien (Hardy). He believed in us and we believed in each other."

The Tigers took a quick 4-0 lead in the third game before Daschbach's service ace, two blocks from sophomore Ellie Shannon and sophomore Sonia Abuel-Saud's kill put an end to that. The burst seemed to mark an irrevocable shift in momentum.

"I think we just came out too tight," Ebner said. "We weren't talking to each other. We came back with more energy in the third set and that made a lot of difference."

The Gators took advantage, building on their lead until it became an 11-point edge by the time a hitting error gave Sacred Heart the third-game win, which carried over into the fourth game.

Notre Dame took a 6-4 lead in the final set before the Gators rallied for nine straight points. The only drama afterward was who would get to loft the NorCal trophy overheard first.

Daschbach led Sacred Heart with 16 kills and 18 digs. Abuel-Saud added 14 kills and 17 digs. Ebner had 11 kills and recorded 4.5 blocks while Shannon had five blocks and seven kills. Junior libero Olivia Bertolacci added 23 digs while senior setter Hanna Elmore finished with 32 assists.

Meanwhile in Stockton Palo Alto qualified for its first trip to the CIF State Championships after winning its first-ever NorCal title with a 25-21, 26-24, 25-22 victory over host St. Mary's (Stockton) on Tuesday night in the Division I finale at Lincoln High.

Second-seeded Palo Alto improved to a school-record 40-1 while eliminating top-seeded St. Mary's (31-9).

"We played a very solid match last night, not a great match," Paly coach Dave Winn said on Wednesday morning. "But, solid was good enough to rattle St. Mary's."

Palo Alto, ranked No. 13 overall in the state and No. 10 among Division I teams in this week's updated Freeman Rankings on, will face the No. 1 team in the nation -- Long Beach Poly -- in Saturday's Division I state finals at the San Jose State Event Center at 7 p.m. Long Beach Poly (38-2), the No. 2 seed in the SoCal Championships, advanced with a 25-20, 22-25, 25-21, 22-25, 19-17 victory over No. 4 seed Redondo Union on Tuesday.

St. Mary's focused on stopping 6-foot-5 Paly junior Melanie Wade, and pretty much did while limiting her to just six kills, four blocks and one ace.

"It was clear St. Mary's was trying to stop Melanie Wade," said Winn, "as they had two blocks committing to her all night. They were able to hold Melanie to only six kills, but our OHs were not stopped."

Senior Trina Ohms stepped up with 11 kills while 6-2 junior Maddie Kuppe also contributed in a big way with 12 kills (.353 with no errors) plus 11 digs, three aces and a block. Junior Caroline Martin added four kills and 10 digs.

"Our tough serving was a big differentiating factor as we never allowed St. Mary's to get into the fhythm of their offense," Winn said.

Junior setter Kimmy Whitson had another solid all-around game with 30 assists, two kills, four aces, two blocks and seven digs while senior Megan Coleman added 14 digs and three aces.

Surprisingly, perhaps, was that St. Mary's had beaten St. Francis (Sacramento) in the Sac-Joaquin Section finals. Paly lost the first game in its semifinal win over St. Francis, but swept past St. Mary's with relative ease.

"I think St. Mary's and St. Francis are actually very similar in their approach to offense and defense, so it surprised me that St. Mary's was able to sweep SF," Winn said. "But, that's the thing about HS vball, it's about who executes better that night . . . not necessarily who is the better team. We had a tone of resolve last night, and that got us through any rough spots or pressure-filled situations."

It's the same kind of resolve that Palo Alto will need on Saturday, as it goes after the first state title in program history.

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Like this comment
Posted by enough!
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Dec 1, 2010 at 11:32 am

Wait, isn't this publication named 'PALO ALTO' online? Yet no pictures from Paly Volleyball's big accomplishment last night? Seriously?

Like this comment
Posted by agree
a resident of Professorville
on Dec 1, 2010 at 11:40 am

Couldn't agree more with enough!'s comment. Palo Alto Weekly and its associated Palo Alto Online Sports has a distinct bias against the Palo Alto public high schools. Given any opportunity they usually will spotlight the private high schools over the public ones, even when they are not located in Palo Alto. You can always count on the weekly to feature SHP, Menlo, Castilleja, and the like.

Like this comment
Posted by Gentle
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 1, 2010 at 11:50 am

Congrats to Paly. Wonderful win.

The Paly game was in Stockton. That makes it harder to cover. The SHP game was at home. I bet we will see good pictures of both. Great job to the kids.

That said, I can't get enough of PAUSD sports. We have great teams in multiple sports at both schools. We are lucky to be here. Thanks PA Weekly!

Like this comment
Posted by Keith Peters
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 1, 2010 at 11:56 am

If Palo Alto had played at home and Sacred Heart Prep on the road, we would have covered Paly. We could cover only one team, unfortunately. There was no one available to make the trip to Stockton. It has nothing to do with favoring one team over another. There are only so many hours in the day to get everything done. Both teams will be covered on Saturday in their respective state finals.

Like this comment
Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 1, 2010 at 11:59 am

Link to Paly's article - Go Lady Vikes!!

Web Link

BTW - I'm with the above readers, Paly should have been covered instead of SHP - they are not a Palo Alto school!

Like this comment
Posted by Dave Winn
a resident of Mountain View
on Dec 1, 2010 at 12:03 pm

Keith Peters and the Weekly staff have done a phenomenal job covering our Paly volleyball team this year. I have nothing but good things to say about what he does to give the girls the spotlight they have earned. His articles give the background and context to what we are doing, and I can't thank him enough for that.

Last night we had a historic victory on the road, in a tough gym with a huge majority of fans that wanted us to lose. I can totally understand not having a picture of our accomplishment. We didn't finish until 9pm and then had a 2 hr bus ride home. PA weekly had their hands full with local vball action. Had we sent Keith a picture from the match, I know he would've published it.

Let's rejoice together what these girls have done for our program and for our community, along with SHP and St Francis.

Coach Dave

Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Park Mom
a resident of Menlo Park
on Dec 1, 2010 at 12:08 pm

The Almanac, A San Mateo County Paper, posted Sacred Heart Prep Wins, and Keeps posting their volleyball achievements. However, I have noticed the Palo Alto papers have been seriously lacking the history making winning streak of their own local girls high school volleyball team at Palo Alto High School. The above readers are correct in their complaints. You should be embarassed PA Newspapers.

Like this comment
Posted by Paly Mom
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 1, 2010 at 12:34 pm

[Portion removed due to same poster using multiple names]

Like this comment
Posted by Paly Fan
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 1, 2010 at 1:26 pm

I think the Palo Alto Weekly has done an outstanding job in covering all schools and their respective events. The sports editor can't be at every event and he does an outstanding job. Parents have to more supportive and not so negative. I heard that one parent didn't even know that her daughter was athlete of the week. Congrats to Paly volleyball! Good job.

Like this comment
Posted by BRiKlayer
a resident of Menlo Park
on Dec 1, 2010 at 1:45 pm

Well said, Paly Fan!

Keith Peters - GREAT job covering all schools in your area. Don't change a thing!

Coach Winn - Congratulations on your girls' season! It's an amazing achievement, one I've enjoyed following all year long in the PA Weekly. Bring it on Saturday!

Today should be a day of celebration for the Paly, SHP, and St. Francis teams, their parents, and their fans.

Like this comment
Posted by VB Coach
a resident of Professorville
on Dec 1, 2010 at 2:11 pm

I'm surprised at the comments from people who don't seem to understand logistics. I think that someone from Paly and the PA Weekly could have arranged for someone at the match to email photos from Stockton if instantaneous coverage was that important to them.

Several of the Sacred Heart kids live in Palo Alto. Elmore went to Jordan and I'm pretty sure she would have gone to Paly if she hadn't chosen the private school route. Of course if she'd done that, she would have sat behind Kimmy Whitson for her entire career.

There are also quite a few St. Francis kids who live in P.A. and would have attended Gunn or Paly if they'd gone to public school. Yet they aren't covered in this piece. Should those parents be hollering? Get real, people.

Great job this season, Paly and Coach Winn. Next year, play some tougher non-league opponents so you can go into the NorCal tourney as the #1 seed!

Like this comment
Posted by The Fish
a resident of Stanford
on Dec 1, 2010 at 3:26 pm

Well, we've got some petty comments from parents!

These are the parents who make life for a volleyball coach difficult!

Like this comment
Posted by The Fish
a resident of Stanford
on Dec 1, 2010 at 3:30 pm

Hey parents of PA, the big fish in Palo Alto is Stanford University!

Like this comment
Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 1, 2010 at 3:46 pm

The Fish - Stanford is a big fish and there is surprising little posted on this site about Stanford. But I also find it odd that the Palo Alto weekly publishes things about Sacred Heart, Menlo, M/A on a fairly regular basis, yet there is seldom anything about Palo Alto schools in the Almanac. I also suspect the PA Weekly readers would much rather read about PA school than Atherton, Mountain View, Menlo Park, etc.

Like this comment
Posted by Paly Booster
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 1, 2010 at 3:50 pm

So Keith does do a fabulous job but a more substantive point is being made. Lots of Palo Alto readers follow local high school sports particularly when a team is doing well. It's not often a Paly team ends up having to play the *No.1 team* in the country for the CA Championship. I am not certain the Weekly devotes as much space and resources to sports as it could do. With a little more help and say a cellphone (?)a photo of the Norcal champion might have been included from last night.

Like this comment
Posted by Volleyball observer
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 1, 2010 at 4:55 pm

I agree with Paly Booster. Parents can, and do, submit photos. The Weekly has run them before. Someone with the Paly volleyball team in Stockton could have sent in a photo from last night. Evidently, since none are on the web site, nobody bothered to do so. And, these are the folks who are complaining. So, complainers, put your money (and photos) where you mouth is. There are reasons why everything is done the way it is. The Weekly covers only those schools within its circulation area, which includes Menlo, Sacred Heart and Menlo-Atherton. Castilleja gets covered because it's in Palo Alto. Sending someone to Stockton takes time and money and, what if Paly lost? Then it was a wasted trip. Fortunately for both, Paly and SHP will play for state titles on Saturday and I'm sure someone will be there to cover both, along with Paly playing for a CCS football title on Friday night and SHP playing for CCS title on Saturday. Appreciate what you get and not what you don't.

Like this comment
Posted by Dr. William Bedford, PhD
a resident of Stanford
on Dec 1, 2010 at 8:36 pm

Interesting that someone posted "Stanford is a big fish and there is surprising little posted on this site about Stanford." As of this post, I counted 13 sports articles covering football, men's basketball, women's basketball, men's water polo, women's volleyball, and women's soccer. I also know that the Palo Alto Online, which can be read by anyone in the world (so it's just not Palo Alto) had the news about Jeremy Green's exhaustion before anyone else, including AP. I also recall that whenever Jeremy Lin sneezed, the PA Online had a story about it. And that goes back to when Lin was still at Paly. I do agree that Palo Alto residents would like to read about Palo Alto, Gunn and Castilleja athletes (I counted EIGHT Palo Alto girls' volleyball pictures currently online. But Atherton and Menlo Park residents, where the paper is also available, would like to read about those athletes. The Palo Alto Online and the Palo Alto Weekly share the same two-person sports staff and one of them is supposed to only be part time. Doesn't anybody do any research any more? "You're entitled to your own opinions but not to your own facts." Sincerely, Will.

Like this comment
Posted by Paly fan 2
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Dec 1, 2010 at 10:20 pm

Keith peters has done a great job this season, and it is completely understandable that driving to Stockton is an inconvenience. It's just too bad that paly didn't get the article for such a big win and the second to last game of an amazing season. Seriously they hardly get any credit. Still though palo alto online is very helpful when it comes to covering sports. Congrats paly.

Like this comment
Posted by Marla
a resident of Atherton
on Dec 4, 2010 at 4:11 pm

SHP is great at PR. I think they have someone who is in charge of just doing PR for the school.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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