By Keith Peters
Palo Alto Online Sports
The final official team function for the Palo Alto High girls' volleyball team was to watch a replay of the 2011 CIF Division I state championship match on Wednesday.
Some of the players said they were a little apprehensive at watching themselves again. After all, they already knew the outcome -- a dramatic five-set victory over Marymount on Saturday at Concordia University in Irvine.
While emotions were played out on the floor during the final moments of the match and in the post-match celebration, those same emotions likely surfaced once again on Wednesday as all the highs and lows of Palo Alto historic second straight state title played out.
Sure, there would be smiles and laughter, but also some tears. For the Palo Alto seniors, their monumental two-year run not only put the program on the national map with top-10 national rankings, but brought an end to their prep careers.
Even head coach Dave Winn had a hard time believing what had happened days after the achievement.
"I'm still at a loss for words," he said. "Did it really happen? I'm afraid someone's going to call me and ask for the trophy back, due to some technicality."
No, the 2011 state championship trophy is safe and probably sitting right next to the one Paly captured in 2010 while finishing off a remarkable 41-1 season.
In two seasons, the Palo Alto girls reached the highest of highs while bringing the program a first-ever Central Coast Section title, first NorCal crown and first-ever state championship.
The Vikings finished their magical run with a 21-game win streak and a 77-4 record. No team in the 100-plus years of Palo Alto athletics ever produced such a remarkable two-year effort.
"This state championship was just as special as last year," said Winn, who won his 200th match at Paly with the state title secured. He is 200-36 in six seasons with the Vikings. Last month, Winn won the 300th match of his coaching career. "Last year's win will forever be our first and most memorable in program history.
"This year, we fought through the challenge of being the target of every team we faced, and came out on top in 36 of 39 matches. Again, we seemed to enter the state final as an underdog and started out with a resounding first-set win. But, we also encountered plenty of resistance and an insanely huge comeback win."
The state finale provided a roller coaster of emotions as NorCal No. 1-seeded Palo Alto defeated SoCal No. 2-seeded Marymount, 25-17, 25-23, 22-25, 20-25, 17-15.
Palo Alto senior Melanie Wade had 27 kills and 11 digs was named the Most Valuable Player of the championship match. She got her final kill to put the Vikings on top 16-15 in the final set, with the match decided when Marymount (Los Angeles) freshman Yaasmeen Bedart-Ghani hit wide to end the match. Palo Alto seniors Maddie Kuppe and Caroline Martin were named to the All-Championship Team.
"The 2011 Paly squad is a once-in-a-few-decades kind of team," Winn said. "They all truly know how to leave it all out on the court and give everything for their teammates. We had 16 on the roster (including eight seniors) and even though only eight or nine saw some regular court time, they all cheered for each other no matter what. They get what it means to put team goals ahead of personal agendas. And that's why we were able to achieve great things."
The state title elevated Palo Alto to a No.1 national spot in the MaxPreps Freeman computer rankings. In the final MaxPreps Xcellent 25 National Volleyball Rankings, the Vikings were No. 11. Paly also finished No. 9 nationally in the ESPNRise Powerade Fab 50 and was No. 10 in the country in the prepvolleyball.com poll, regarded as the nation's authoritative source on prep volleyball. Paly also was ranked No. 10 nationally last year by prepvolleyball.com.
To put the No. 1 ranking into perspective, the Xcellent 25 and Fab 50 rankings picked LaVista South of Papillion, Neb., as their No. 1 team in the nation.
Nevertheless, Palo Alto was regarded in all the polls as one of the nation's best. Prepvolleyball.com ranked Division II state champion Presentation No. 7 nationally, despite the fact Paly beat Prez in their lone meeting this season.
The Vikings looked like one of the nation's best on Saturday as they took control after winning the first two sets convincingly, but quickly looked in trouble when Marymount (33-5) rallied to deadlock the match and send it to a deciding fifth set.
The Sailors, who won the SoCal title up by upending top-seeded Los Alamitos, appeared on their way to victory by grabbing a 13-7 lead in the final set. Marymount, however, made two mistakes with a net violation and hitting long and it was 13-9.
Martin, who had a standout effort with 10 kills, scored off a block and then produced a stuff block and it was 13-11. Kuppe, who served back-to-back aces to win last year's state title, came up with a huge ace and Wade followed with a kill for a 13-13 match.
Wade got kill No. 25 for a 14-13 lead before Marymount tied it at 14. A service error gave Paly a 15-14 lead but a block tied the match at 15. That's when Wade got kill No. 26 and the Sailors' standout freshman Bedart-Ghani, inexplicably set three times over more veteran teammates during Paly's run, sailed a kill attempt way long and Palo Alto began a well-deserved celebration.
"All we needed was to put two kills away," Marymount coach Cari Klein said. "But we got tentative and missed some shots we normally make. This was probably the worst match we've played this season."
Despite going 41-1 last year and losing two senior starters, Winn believed this year's squad was even better. He had eight seniors and plenty of veteran experience, which surfaced in a big way Saturday when it counted most.
In addition to Wade, Kuppe produced 16 kills while fellow seniors Martin and Jackie Koenig contributed in key moments. Senior setter Kimmy Whitson had some problems with double contacts throughout the two sets the Vikings lost but was solid when it counted while producing 45 assists.
Junior libero Shelby Knowles also came up big in spots as the Vikings closed out the most successful two-year performance in school history.
Paly's other seniors who contributed to the team's success were Tiffany Tsung, Ashley Shin and Ally Kron.
The state title was the fifth in Paly school history. The boys' basketball program won crowns in 1993 and 2006 and the football team won its state title in 2010.
"The bus ride home was incredibly fun," said Winn, whose team was exhausted after the five-set match that started an hour late, dealing with post-match interviews and finally getting to a team meeting at 1 a.m. "I felt almost like I did when I was with my high school wrestling team, coming home from a big match victory.
"We were all celebrating the moment, singing at the top of our lungs and enjoying life. We always talk about taking 'mental snapshots' during big moments of the season, since these are the vivid memories we'll tuck away in our brains and recall the detail while the rest of the context falls away. Needless to say, we made a huge scrapbook of mental memories for the season!"