It was only a few weeks ago that the Palo Alto girls' volleyball team was undefeated, ranked No. 4 in the nation in one poll and, seemingly, on top of the world following a big victory over Presentation. My, how things have changed since then.
The Vikings are now 15-3, two more losses than their entire 2010 season, and have dropped off the national radar.
On Monday, Palo Alto took on perennial nemesis St. Francis in a battle between two California state championship teams. Despite having the home court advantage, the Vikings made too many mistakes early and dropped a 25-20, 28-26, 19-25, 22-25, 15-8 decision.
Senior Maddie Kuppe had 10 kills and senior setter Kimmy Whitson added 42 assists for Paly.
It was only two weekends ago that the Lancers lost to Presentation for the second time this season and beat Mitty in the annual Mitty Invitational. The host Monarchs, meanwhile, lost to Presentation. Thus, by comparing results, it could be determined that Paly should be better than Presentation, St. Francis and Mitty.
"Volleyball is a crazy sport and the rules of transitivity definitely do not apply," Palo Alto coach Dave Winn said following Monday's loss.
If last season was all about the record (41-1) and state championship for Paly, this season is all about learning how to get back to that level of excellence. Winn put together the toughest schedule in program history, perhaps knowing that his team would take some lumps. In the long run, however, Winn figured his team would benefit.
So, despite the loss to the Lancers, there was something positive.
"I again liked the fact we were able to fight back after being two sets down," he said. "But, we have to stop putting ourselves in these situations. We were up 24-20 in the second set but squandered several opportunities to score and lost (28-26). To me, that's when we lost the match. By the time we got to the fifth set, we had lost a lot of our energy and made a lot of sloppy mistakes.
"But, it's all good learning. I'm very interested to see how we respond on Thursday."
Palo Alto will host Los Gatos on Thursday (6:45 p.m.) in a SCVAL De Anza Division showdown. The Wildcats were the only team to beat the Vikings last season, ending a 26-match win streak in the process. Paly bounced back from that loss and won 15 straight, including its first-ever state title.
The Vikings need to bounce back once again. There's still a division title to defend and there's one more tournament on the schedule -- Spikefest II -- before Paly begins defense of its CCS Division I crown.
At this point, the Vikings have faced their toughest competition of the season -- unless they meet Presentation, St. Francis or Mitty in the Spikefest II. Everything is pointing to a return visit to San Jose State for the state finals on Dec. 3.
The Vikings, however, need to learn from their recent struggles and improve. Winn, for one, believes his team can do just that. Paly has the talent, depth and experience and now just needs to make it all work once again.