Palo Alto girls win first-ever state volleyball title, finish 41-1


By Keith Peters

Palo Alto Online Sports

This has been a season of firsts for the Palo Alto High girls' volleyball team. The Vikings won the SCVAL De Anza Division title, captured their first-ever Central Coast Section Division I crown, won their first Northern California championship and qualified for an appearance in the state finals for the first time.

There was one more 'first' needed to complete the season, and the Vikings got it on Saturday by rallying for a thrilling five-set victory over Long Beach Poly in the CIF Division I state finals at the San Jose State Event Center.

Palo Alto finished off a near-perfect 41-1 season with a 25-17, 20-25, 25-21, 11-25, 17-15 victory.

Coincidently, the Jackrabbits were ranked No. 1 in the nation according to the Freeman Rankings on, thus another first for Palo Alto -- beating a No. 1 team. Long Beach also was ranked No. 7 nationally by, considered the expert voice for high school volleyball.

On Sunday, Palo Alto was elevated to No. 2 nationally behind St. Francis (35-5), which won the state Division II title on Saturday.

Paly junior Melanie Wade produced 15 kills, hit .375 with two digs and two blocks and was named the Most Valuable Player of the state Division I finals. Teammates Megan Coleman, a senior, and junior Caroline Martin joined Wade on the all-tournament team. Paly junior setter Kimmy Whitson won the sportsmanship award for her team.

"It's hard to believe it's over," said Paly coach Dave Winn. "But, what a way to end it."

Paly junior Maddie Kuppe clinched things for Paly in the fifth set, after the Vikings had to rally from a 12-9 deficit. The Vikings cut their deficit to 14-12 before junior Jackie Koenig made a solo block and Kuppe ripped a kill off a block to tie it at 14.

Facing match point again at 15-14, a kill by Long Beach Poly sailed long. It then came down to Kuppe, who served back-to-back floating serves that found the court for aces.

"This is the biggest thing that I've ever been involved in," Kuppe said. "It's a great feeling."

Then, and only then, Palo Alto had its fourth 'banner' victory of the season. Now the state banner will hang next to the NorCal, CCS and SCVAL banners that Palo Alto has collected this season.

"We talked about four banners at the beginning of the season, and we knew each successive one was going to be harder and harder to get," Winn said. "And we were right."

Palo Alto started off the state finals quite the contrary with its seemingly easy first-set victory. After Long Beach took the second, the Vikings knew they were in for a battle. Winning the back-and-forth third set was crucial as Paly trailed by 21-19 before Wade, Whitson and Kuppe took over.

Long Beach, however, charged back in the fourth set and pulled away from a 9-8 lead by scoring 11 of the next 12 points to take a 20-9 lead. The Vikings committed too many errors and couldn't get a block on USC-bound Bria Russ, who finished the match with a game-high 16 kills and 20 digs.

That set up the winner-take-all fifth set, which saw the teams trade points until the Jackrabbits grabbed a 12-9 lead. Winn called time at that point to steady his team. Paly came out and scored the next two points to get back in it and setting up Kuppe's heroics to win it.

"It's unbelievable," Kuppe said of the title. "More than anything … it's about focusing on the next point. So really, it was nothing. It was just another point. I had to go up knowing that if I didn't give it everything, I'd have regrets. And more than anything in those situations, it's about no regrets — leave everything on the court."

The final point by Kuppe set off a wild celebration by the Vikings, who at first almost didn't realize they had won.

"It really hasn't absorbed yet," said Wade. "I think tomorrow I'll wake up and be like, 'Wait, did we really do that?'" It feels great to win as a team. It wasn't one person, we all came out and played our game and fought really, really hard."

"Oh my goodness, it feels so good," said Whitson, who had 34 assists and 15 digs. "I can't believe it. I'll believe it in a few hours, but right now it's just so great."

Ohms said she gained inspiration from Palo Alto's football team, which overcame favored Valley Christian the night before to win the CCS Open Division title.

"What really fired us up was our football team winning CCS," she said. "That showed us that anything is possible."

And for Long Beach Poly's No. 1 ranking?

"They're just numbers," Ohms said. "When we play, it's all about heart and effort."

Winn said winning the state championship now elevates the program to a special height.

"Now, every year when the players come back, they know what they can build on," Winn said. "Anything is possible."

Like winning another state title next year?

"Absolutely," Winn said.

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Like this comment
Posted by vikingfan
a resident of Duveneck School
on Dec 5, 2010 at 12:54 am

this is awesome. an addition to this story is that palo altojusmped 42 spots in the naitonal ranking, and is now ranked #1 in the nation...pretty crazy
Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Parent of Volley Player
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 5, 2010 at 1:08 am

Congrats to Paly!

My daughter is in middle school and doing well in volleyball. Curious how tall these girls are and if they are all in power leagues and have private coaching. Are these girls living and breathing volleyball? I'm assuming they are. Are they all planning on continuing volleyball in college? And how many are on the team?I'm guessing their first string played most of the time. Thanks for any advice.

Like this comment
Posted by Theresa
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 5, 2010 at 8:37 am

Volley parent, I'm very involved in the volleyball community as a coach (now at Gunn, but I coached at Paly for the first half of the 2000s), referee, and player (on a seniors team :) ) and would say that most varsity players in the area are on power league teams. Both of the seniors on Paly's squad will be playing in college, and I'm sure at least three of this year's juniors will continue on as well.

As with most high-level varsity teams, Paly played mostly its starters throughout its CCS and NorCal run, though Coach Winn got other players in when he got the chance. If you're not a starter, your job is to work really hard in practice and make your teammates better -- continuously challenge them, and possibly earn a starting spot yourself.

Congratulations to Paly on this thrilling victory. We had a good-sized Gunn contingent there to cheer them on. Best wishes to seniors Coleman and Ohms as they head off to college!

Like this comment
Posted by PAVB Parent
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 6, 2010 at 11:33 am

Volley Parent- Paly Volleyball is very competitive which is why they do so well. Yes, all of the girls play on power teams and many play on the best power teams in the area. It is a huge commitment. And if they make Varsity and aren't a starter, there's a good chance they won't see much playing time. That said, if your daughter loves the game, works hard and can make it on the team, it is one of the best experiences she will have in High School. It is a class program surrounded by a terrific community of parents players, coaches and alumni. Many will play in college, many won't. Doesn't matter. All of them have a great time and value the friendships they made. I know our daughter does as do we as parents.

Like this comment
Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 6, 2010 at 11:43 am

We have a terrific volleyball program starting in middle school, great kids, great coaches, great parents. You will notice that in almost any sport, the kids who have a commitment from a college by junior or senior year, play the club version of the sport in addition to the team at school. You will also notice that there are only 2 seniors left on the Paly volleyball team. I think by the time you are a varsity volleyball player, the time commitment is such that unless it is going to help you get into college, most of the kids don't have the time to devote to the sport (this is true for most sports with a high level of time commitment.) There are student athletes who quit playing sports at the end of freshman year because the academics are a bit too rigorous for sports and good grades.

Like this comment
Posted by Sherry
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 6, 2010 at 11:50 am

What a thrill for these most deserving girls and coach Winn!

Like this comment
Posted by Enough!
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Dec 6, 2010 at 12:15 pm

So glad that Paly finally got the chance to make it all the way to the top. There have been many great teams over the recent years, but while the school was in Division 2 they constantly hit the roadblock of the same three schools: Mitty, St. Francis, Presentation. Those schools have amazing volleyball programs, fully bought and paid for by recruiting. Paly has to work within its own demographic, and in having that limitation to work with, they have just accomplished an amazing feat. The coaching staff, the players and the fans all made this a remarkable season as well as a historic sports accomplishment for Palo Alto High School. CONGRATULATIONS LADY VIKINGS!

Like this comment
Posted by Frank C.
a resident of another community
on Dec 6, 2010 at 1:48 pm

Congratulations to the Lady Vikings on a fabulous feat. Wow!

Frank C.

Paly Class of 1967

Like this comment
Posted by Birt Harvey
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 6, 2010 at 2:21 pm

Wouldn't it be a great match--Paly vs St Francis?
Is there any way that permission could be granted by the authorities that control prep sports?

Like this comment
Posted by Theresa
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 6, 2010 at 4:45 pm

Birt, Paly and St. Francis have played quite a few times over the years. For many years, up until the 2001 season, Paly and St. Francis were both in the same league (De Anza division of the SCVAL), so they played one another frequently. Ever since the West Catholic Athletic League (WCAL) was formed, it takes a little extra effort for Paly and St. Francis to play.

For the first couple of years after St. Francis left the SCVAL, we scheduled non-league matches between Paly and St. Francis early in the season. Nowadays the teams will play at tournaments; in the last few years, they've played during the CCS playoffs when both were in Division II. Just last year, Paly beat St. Francis during the CCS playoffs.

Due to various regulations that govern high school sports, the two teams will not meet because the 2010 season is over. But players from the teams know one another well -- they play on many of the same club teams, or they play against one another during club season.

But it would have been interesting to see the two teams play this year. Having watched both the Division II and Division I state championship matches, I think Paly could have beaten this year's St. Francis team.

St. Francis got a higher ranking because they played in a slightly tougher league (both WCAL and SCVAL-De Anza are considered A+ leagues) and they also played in some tournaments against top-level teams. Paly's schedule was considered easier this year by those who calculate the rankings.

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

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