By Rick Eymer
Palo Alto Online Sports
Jennifer Wilson knows a thing or two about balancing academics and athletics. She did it for three years as a member of the Stanford women's volleyball team.
For the past three years she's connected with the scholar-athletes at Menlo-Atherton, serving as the school's girls' volleyball coach.
The Bears reached the Central Coast Section Division I championship match in each of her first two years. This year M-A can add PAL Bay Division Championship to its resume.
The Bears clinched at least a share of the league title Thursday, beating host Carlmont, 25-23, 25-11, 25-20, to remain unbeaten with a pair of league matches remaining next week.
M-A (12-0, 20-4) has a busy schedule over the next few days, competing in the Milpitas Spikefest II on Saturday before returning to league action.
"I focus on leading a well-balanced life," Wilson said. "For these girls, academics are their motivation and drives their lives. I went through that at Stanford. Volleyball can be an escape where they can nurture their competitive nature. What drives me is what they want from the school."
While the application process gets closer, most of the Bears are looking at Ivy League schools or comparative schools on the West Coast. Wilson has the experience.
She's trying to build a program, and she has impressed the junior and senior classes, who have thrived under his tuleage.
"As freshmen we weren't taking things seriously," M-A senior Seini Moimoi said. "My sophomore year, coach Jen's first year, we went to CCS. She's done a lot for the volleyball program and is very active, encouraging kids to keep playing."
That's why all but one player, who underwent knee surgery, did not play for a club team during the summer and why all of them will be playing this summer.
"Even though it's a young team we feel experienced," Moimoi said. "Even the sophomores have played club and in middle school. It's good to have the experience because it steps up the development process."
The Bears' frosh-soph team is also undefeated. Coached by Diana Branning, Wilson said the communication is open and they often share advice and suggestions.
The first set against Carlmont, coached by former Menlo School mentor Chris Crader, was the most competitive. The Bears opened a 12-5 lead but Carlmont roared back to take a 22-20 advantage before Moimoi's solo block ended the proceedings.
Pauli King had 10 kills to lead M-A.
In the SCVAL De Anza Division, Palo Alto set the stage for a showdown for the league championship with a 25-12, 25-9, 25-13 victory over visiting Homestead on Senior Night. Senior Melanie Wade had 12 kills to pace the Vikings (10-0, 23-3), who will visit second-place Los Gatos on Tuesday night with a chance to claim the outright division title.
Before that happens, Palo Alto will compete in the Milpitas Spikefest II tournament on Saturday.
Paly's eight seniors went out in style in the Vikings' final regular-season home match, which coach Dave Winn called "one of our most complete games of the season."
Seniors Maddie Kuppe and Caroline Martin each had six kills while senior Jackie Koenig added four. Paly had only four hitting errors the entire match while hitting .390 as a team. Senior Kimmie Whitson contributed 28 assists and two blocks, with Wade adding three blocks and Martin two.
Senior Tiffany Tsung had six digs with Whitson leading the way with eight. Martin added five. Wade and Koenig each served five aces for the defending CIF Division I state champion Vikings.
In the West Bay Athletic League (Skyline Division), Priory took over sole possession of first place with a big 25-23, 26-28, 25-8, 25-19 triumph over former co-leader Harker (9-2, 17-6). The Panthers (8-1, 20-3). Marine Hall-Poirier had 22 kills 16 digs and two aces for the Panthers while Clara Johnson had 13 kills to go with three aces and three blocks. Briana Willhite put away 12 kills and had three blocks, as well.
In nonleague action, visiting Sacred Heart Prep posted a 25-20, 25-19, 19-25, 25-21 victory over Los Altos as seniors Sarah Daschbach and Jesse Ebner contributed 22 and 19 kills, respectively, for the Gators (20-5). Senior Olivia Bertolacci had 27 digs while junior Payton Smith contributed 11 kills.
Priory senior Kat Gregory ran 18:14 while finishing second over the 2.95-mile course at Crystal Springs to highlight local efforts at Center Meet No. 3 on Thursday. Gregory was 18 seconds behind Lauren Croshaw of Aragon. Elizabeth Lacy of Menlo School was eighth overall in 20:13 and teammate Maddie Taylor was 21st overall in 21:11 as the Knights finished fifth in the team race with 111 points. Priory finished 13th.
In the varsity boys' race, Daniel Pugliese of Menlo was sixth in 16:10 with teammate Andrew Schmitt taking 17th in 17:06. Jack Trudelle of Priory ran 23rd in 17:30 to help the Panthers finish fifth in the team race with 154 points. Menlo was sixth with 184.
Menlo School wrapped up its 18th straight league title and improved to 188-0 in league play since 1994 with a 7-0 drubbing of visiting Notre Dame-San Jose on Thursday. The Knights improved to 10-0 in league (18-4 overall) heading into next week's West Bay Athletic League tournament that starts Tuesday at Menlo.
Menlo coach Bill Shine earned his 16th straight league crown while moving his career record at Menlo to 371-64 in 16 seasons with the Knights.
While Menlo celebrated Senior Day, it was junior Giannina Ong, sophomore Kristy Jorgensen, sophomore Christine Eliazo and freshman Liz Yao sweeping the singles matches. The Knights have only one senior, Kacie Madeira. She teamed with junior Sam Hoag to win at No. 2 doubles.