By Keith Peters
Palo Alto Online Sports
Let the horns toot on New Year's Eve. Let the fireworks light up the sky. Let the festivities be festive. Nothing, however, can top what two Palo Alto High teams accomplished in 2010.
For the first time in school history, which began when the Vikings played their first football game in 1897, Palo Alto High won two state championships in the same year. Perhaps even more impressive, the historic feats came just two weeks apart this month.
The first came on Dec. 4 when the Paly girls' volleyball team captured the CIF Division I state championship with a five-set win over heavily favored Long Beach Poly at San Jose State. Less than two weeks later, on Dec. 17, the Vikings shocked the prep football world by upending nationally No. 4-ranked Centennial-Corona, 15-13, for the Division I state crown.
For those efforts, the Paly volleyball and football teams share the honor as Top Prep Story of 2010.
Palo Alto became the only school in California to win two state titles during the year, and nearly had two perfect seasons to brag about as the Vikings' volleyball team finished 41-1 while the gridiron guys went 14-0. Both marks are school records.
For the first time in school history, both Paly teams finished the year ranked among the top 20 in the nation. Volleyball finished No. 10, according to prepvolleyball.com while football checked in at No. 13 on MaxPreps.com.
The Vikings, in both sports, achieved success through hard work and teamwork and under the guidance of their knowledgeable coaches -- Dave Winn (volleyball) and Earl Hansen (football). When the Coach of the Year awards are handed out, both should be considered.
The Vikings' volleyball team, after all, defeated a Long Beach Poly team that was ranked as high as No. 1 in the nation in one poll and was a legitimate No. 7 according to prepvolleyball.com. Paly was no where close to either ranking and thus carried the underdog role into the finals.
Despite having only two seniors on its roster-- Megan Coleman and Trina Ohms -- Palo Alto battled the nation's best on even terms and emerged with a well-deserved state crown after junior Maddie Kuppe served back-to-back aces to clinch.
The Paly football team also took on one of the nation's finest, a team that became the most prolific offensive squad in state history with more than 8,000 total yards gained. Centennial-Corona, however, had to settle for a 14-1 record after the Vikings' came up with a brilliant defensive effort while holding the Huskies to their lowest point total of the season and 41 points under their season average.
To qualify for its second appearance in the state finals (Paly also made it in 2006), the Vikings swept aside WCAL powerhouses Mitty, Bellarmine and Valley Christian to win the CCS Open Division crown.
The performances of the Palo Alto volleyball and football teams not only signal a reason to usher in the new year, but to celebrate the one just concluded.
Winning state titles wasn't exclusive to the Vikings, however. The Pinewood girls' basketball team claimed the Division V state title in March. While the Panthers had won three previous state crowns, this one was special for head coach Doc Scheppler.
Pinewood started the season in no shape to win a state title, having four players sidelined with knee injuries. The Panthers eventually would get three of the players back, one of whom (junior Jenna McLoughlin) made a huge difference.
The Panthers went 16-1 after McLoughlin returned, topped by a 62-44 victory over St. Anthony's (Long Beach) in the state finals in Bakersfield in March. The victory gave Pinewood a 27-6 record while avenging a 43-42 loss to St. Anthony's in December. Since that defeat, the Panthers went 21-2 and completed one of the more remarkable seasons in local prep basketball history.
Pinewood overcome the injury problems, put the end of its 149-game league winning streak behind it and won a state title with only two available seniors. Thus, the future is very bright for the Panthers heading into the 2010-11 season.
The future also is very bright for the Sacred Heart Prep girls' volleyball team, which won the NorCal Division IV title and advanced to the state finals for the first time since 1998 before losing to nationally ranked La Jolla Country Day (33-3) in three sets and finishing 24-11.
The Gators had lost eight seniors to graduation and had only seniors -- Hanna Elmore and Vivian Wu -- on the court in 2010. Despite his youthful team, coach Damien Hardy made it all work.
Speaking of making it all work, that pretty much summed up the season compiled by the Menlo School boys' tennis team in 2010. The Knights wept the Grand Slam of the sport and took it a step further with a perfect 27-0 season.
Menlo, with only two senior starters in singles (Jamin Ball and Patrick Chase), made local tennis history by winning the National High School All-American Boys Invitational Team Tournament, the CCS and NorCal titles in addition to finishing the season undefeated. No team in NorCal history ever had pulled off such a feat.
"You can't do better than we did this year," said Menlo coach Bill Shine. "If you're talking about the best teams in the country, Menlo has to be in that conversation."
The Knights toppled a very good Saratoga team three times during the season, once in the national tourney in addition to the CCS and NorCal finals. That in itself was quite a feat.
While tennis topped the list of accomplishments at Menlo this school year, it was just the best of many highlights by a small school that produced big results.
The Menlo baseball team won the CCS Division III championship with an 8-2 victory over Hillsdale just a few weeks after tennis finished up. The Knights went 25-6, captured the fourth section crown in school history and concluded the year on a 14-game winning streak.
Also in the spring, the Menlo girls' lacrosse team successfully defended its league title with a 16-14 overtime victory over Burlingame to finish a solid season at 17-4. The Knights also had the best golfer in the CCS in junior Patrick Grimes, who won individual honors in the section tournament -- his 64 was the lowest round ever in the finals -- and advanced all the way to the state finals where he finished sixth.
This winter, the Menlo boys' water polo team returned to the top by winning the CCS Division II crown with an impressive 11-5 victory over three-time defending champ Sacred Heart Prep.
The Sacred Heart Prep girls, meanwhile, captured their fourth straight section title with 12-4 victory over Castilleja in the Division II finals to finish 26-3 -- none of the losses coming against CCS teams. The Menlo-Atherton girls also picked up a CCS crown, edging St. Francis, 6-5, in the Division I finale.
Speaking of CCS titles, the Sacred Heart Prep football team captured its first ever by defeating No. 1 seed Carmel, 39-32, in the Division IV finals after rallying from a 32-11 deficit in the third quarter. The Gators finished 11-2 while giving Pete Lavorato the highlight of his prep coaching career.
In a year filled with highlights, here are a few of the best:
In the winter . . .
* The Sacred Heart Prep boys captured the WBAL basketball crown and went on to defeat Palma for the CCS Division V title while Pinewood reached the Division V finals before falling.
* The Eastside Prep girls' basketball team ended one of the longest winning streaks in local history by beating Pinewood, 46-38, to snap Pinewood's streak of 149 straight league victories.
* The Menlo-Atherton girls reached the CCS finals, as did Castilleja, before both teams lost tough decisions. Castilleja went on to host its first-ever NorCal playoff game.
* Sacred Heart Prep defended its WBAL girls' soccer title, but couldn't win a second straight CCS crown as the Gators fell in the Division III semifinals. SHP, however, did gain a big prize when junior Abby Dahlkemper was named the Gatorade Player of the Year for the state of California. She also won her second straight MVP award in the WBAL while leading the Gators to a 14-5-3 record with 16 goals and eight assists.
In the spring . . .
* Palo Alto put together the best baseball season in school history (29-4) while setting a school mark with a 24-game winning streak that ended in a loss to Burlingame in the CCS Division II finals. Menlo-Atherton won its second CCS playoff game in school history and it was a huge one, a 9-5 shocker over St. Francis in the second round of Division I play. Senior outfielder Joc Pederson earned first-team all-state honors from Cal-Hi Sports and later signed a pro contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
* Palo Alto played its first-ever season of boys' lacrosse, but didn't show a lack of inexperience as the Vikings won the SCVAL playoffs with a 10-9 overtime victory over Mountain View. Paly also knocked off No. 1 seed Menlo in overtime in the semifinals.
* The Paly girls, in their third season of playing lacrosse, also gained their first-ever league title with a 10-9 overtime triumph over St. Francis. The two league titles came back-to-back on the Vikings' own field. Palo Alto opened the season with a shocking victory over St. Ignatius, one of the top teams in Northern California.
* Castilleja senior pitcher Sammy Albanese tied a national record with 10 straight no-hitters and tied a state mark with 22 strikeouts in a seven-inning game during another remarkable season. She also struck out 17 in a 2-0 win over R.L. Stevenson, only the second CCS victory in school history and the first section win during Albanese's career. She finished with 395 strikeouts during an 18-9-2 campaign. She was named first-team all-state by Cal-Hi Sports and was the Player of the Year in the Small Schools division.
* Menlo-Atherton senior Alex Haley became the first boys' tennis player in school history to win the CCS singles title as he won the rain-delayed event by winning three matches in the same day. Menlo's Andrew Carlisle and Justin Chan swept the doubles crown.
* Palo Alto sophomore Jasmine Tosky and Sacred Heart Prep sophomore Tom Kremer each won a pair of CCS individual swim titles, with Tosky breaking section records in the 200 free and 100 fly while Kremer lowered school marks while winning the 200 free and 100 back. Tosky helped the Vikings take second in the girls' team race while Kremer helped SHP finish third in the boys' race.
* Pinewood senior Angela Gradiska overcame a mid-season foot injury to successfully defend her 100 and 200 titles at the CCS track and field finals. Palo Alto senior Philip MacQuitty didn't win a section crown, but he did reach the state finals in the 1,600 meters and brought home a third-place medal after running state-leading times earlier in the season in the 800 and 1,600. Gunn junior Erin Robinson captured the girls' 3,200 title at the CCS championships.
In the fall . . .
* A total of 29 local runners qualified for the CIF State Meet in cross country in 2010, with Priory junior Kat Gregory leading the way by successfully defending her Division V title at the CCS championships. She helped the Priory girls qualify as a team while the Priory boys also made it to state, marking the first time in school history that both teams qualified.
* Castilleja finished second at the CCS girls' golf championships and qualified for the NorCal tournament for the first time in school history. Senior Brenna Nelsen led the Gators during their successful season.
A happy New Year, indeed.