The Palo Alto Vipers, a 5th grade girls' basketball team, took their 14-0 record to Southern California last weekend to compete in the NJB All-Net National tournament and represent Northern California well.
The Vipers did just that as they swept their division with a 4-0 mark, won by an average of 20 points a game, and returned from Orange County with an 18-0 record and a national title.
"This is a really special team," said Vipers' coach Randy Scott, "These girls really work hard, they play unselfish basketball with heads-up passing and assists, but most importantly, they really support each other and rally around the success of each teammate.
"I think what we have is really special and hopefully we can continue our progression over the next couple of years."
After defeating the Redondo Sea Hawks, 41-17, in the first round, Palo Alto played the feature game of the weekend against the Lady Cats of Brea in a Saturday night showdown at Fullerton College. The Lady Cats were 17-0 heading into the contest, averaging nearly 40 points a game, winning their regular-season games by an average of 19 points, and coming off a 42-20 first-round win.
The teams were well-matched with a full complement of quick, ball-handling guards, shooting wings, dominant centers, and power forwards. The first three minutes of frenetic pressing and aggressive defenses kept both teams from scoring.
The Vipers' defense continued to keep the Lady Cats under wraps while not giving them any easy shots. Palo Alto pressured the Lady Cats into turnovers, and converting those into points with layups and jump shots. At the end of the first quarter, the Vipers had jumped out to a 14-4 lead.
In the second quarter, the Vipers maintained the pressure, dominated the boards, and scratched out another 14 points to grab a 28-7 halftime lead. In the second half, Palo Alto took a 20-point advantage into the fourth quarter, initiating the mercy running-clock to close out the game.
In Round 3 on Sunday, Palo Alto played the Rancho Santa Margarita Titans, a 13-3 team whose only losses were to Brea. The Vipers doubled them up, winning their third game of the tournament by 40-20.
Palo Alto entered the fourth and final round against Redwood City. This was the fifth meeting between these two teams this season -- the last time for the Silicon Valley Championship. Already eliminated from championship contention, Redwood City tried to play the role of spoiler while trying to end its winless streak against Palo Alto.
However, it was not to be. After a slow start, Palo Alto pulled away in the third quarter, and for the fourth time in four National Tournament games, grabbed a 20-point lead in the fourth quarter to activate the running clock/mercy rule, on the way to a 44-22 victory.
The Palo Alto Vipers featured Klara Astrom, Brianna Claros, Sabrina Dahlen, Sophie Frick, Mele Kailahi, Stella Kailahi, Carly Leong, Claire Lin, Boo Perez, Jena Scott, Emma Staiger and Allie Stuart. Assisting Randy Scott were Allan Leong and Pam Perez.
The Vipers were one of six Palo Alto teams competing in the national tournament. He 7th grade girls finished second in the Sports Authority Division while the 7th grade boys were runnerup in the Evans Division. The Palo Alto 5th grade boys were third in the Evans Division and the 6th grade girls were fourth in the Sports Authority Division. The Palo Alto 5th grade boys did not place in their division.
The 7th grade boys placed second in its division at the NJB Nationals, with more than 150 teams in the tournament in Anaheim. Palo Alto qualified for the national event by winning the Silicon Valley All-Net Sectional Championship.
The 7th grade boys included Jonathan Davis, Justin Hull, Cameron Lee, Christian Leong, Matthew Lewis, Tyler McGraw, Alec Olmstead, Rohit Reddy, Jonathan Samos and Oliver Svirksy. The team was coached by Ken Morgan.
Palo Alto was the top seed in its pool. Palo Alto opened strong against the Walnut Showtime with a 47-26 victory. With a red-hot offense and a solid defense, the Palo Alto boys drove to an impressive 63–46 win over a team of strong shooters from Anaheim Hills.
"The win over the Anaheim Hills Comanches really epitomized what uniquely characterizes this team," Morgan said. "These boys have worked hard all season to not only bring out the best in each player, but ultimately, to get on the court at the whistle and leave the court at the buzzer having played the best game as a team as possible.
"It was really fun to watch these kids play intense defensive pressure the entire game, every game. And, they loved to run. I couldn't possibly ask for more in a team than what these boys gave this season."
Palo Alto came away with an early Sunday morning 50–31 victory against the Villa Park Vipers. In the championship semifinals against the Diamond Bar Jaguars, Palo Alto rallied for 53–41 victory.
With little time to rest and playing its third game in one day, Palo Alto went on to a closely fought championship Game against the Fremont North Fogtown and dropped a 61-49 decision.
The Palo Alto NJB 7th grade All-Net boys capped their 23–2 season by placing second in the tourney. Over the course of the season, Palo Alto averaged 53 points per game while giving up only 38.