Despite reaching the CIF Division IV state championship match last season, the Menlo School girls volleyball team got the 2014 season off to a slow start when standout junior outside hitter Maddie Stewart was lost for the season due to an injury.
The Knights struggled to the point of losing seven straight matches, from the semifinals of the Chris Chandler Invitational to nonleague matches to St. Francis and defending Division III state champ Valley Christian to an 0-4 finish at the Mitty Showcase last weekend.
Given those results, Menlo perhaps wasn't expected to be a factor when the West Bay Athletic League (Foothill Division) season opened this week. The Knights, however, had other ideas.
After opening the league season with a win over Harker on Tuesday, the host Knights toppled rival Sacred Heart Prep, 20-25, 25-16, 25-22, 25-22, on Thursday night. Menlo improved to 2-0 in league and 8-12 overall while the Gators, a preseason contender for the WBAL title, dropped to 2-0 and 13-7.
"We played a really tough preseason schedule to help prepare us for league," said Menlo coach Steven Cavella. "I think playing all of those good teams allowed us to identify the areas where we needed to improve. We were able to work on those things in practice and we have become a much better team over the course of the season. Since we started league the team has really played well.
"We have had great passing from Lida Vandermeer, Jessica Houghton, Caroline Bradley, and Dea Dressel. Elisa Merten continues to do a great job running the offense. Payton Mack, Olivia Pellarin, and Mia Vandermeer have been incredible in the middle. Ashley Dreyer had her best match of the year last night against SHP."
Lida Vandermeer led the way against SHP with 17 kills, 28 digs, and two blocks while fellow senior Merten, another holdover from last year's state runner-up team, provided 42 assists, 14 digs and three blocks. Mack had 11 kills with no errors in 15 attempts for a .733 hitting percentage. Sophomore newcomer Mia Vandermeer added three kills in seven attempts (.429 hitting) with five blocks while Dreyer (a freshman) and Houghton (a sophomoe) both contributed seven kills for the Knights.
Sacred Heart Prep, which has now dropped three straight, was led by the senior tandem of Victoria Garrick (18 kills and 22 digs) and Natalie Marshall (22 assists and six kills). Lilika Teu added 16 assists and eight kills, Ara Peterson finished with nine kills and seven blocks while Mamie Caruso contributed 17 digs.
Also in the WBAL Foothill Division, Castilleja dropped a 22-25, 25-23, 25-21, 25-20 decision to host Mercy-San Francisco. Sophomore Elle Kass led the Gators (0-2, 11-13) with 22 kills while junior Madeline Johnson added 18 kills, 20 digs and three blocks. Senior Sarah Rose had 11 kills and five blocks with sophomore Ashley Hu finishing with 24 digs.
In the WBAL Skyline Division, host Pinewood remained unbeaten in league play following a 25-16, 25-9, 25-18 victory over visiting Priory. Pinewood moved to 2-0 and 9-4 while Priory fell to 1-2 and 4-7. Mehra den Braven, the Most Valuable Player in the division last year, led Pinewood with 16 kills while freshman Maddi Escher provided 32 assists. Priory played without two starters.
In the SCVAL De Anza Division, Palo Alto ended a two-match losing streak in league play with a 25-10, 25-19, 23-25, 25-19 victory over host Monta Vista.
Senior Jade Schoenberger led the Vikings (1-2, 11-5) with 16 kills, 14 digs and four aces while fellow senior Anna Dukovic added 16 kills and 11 digs. Senior Hayley Poore finished wih 16 digs, senior Kabria Dame had 22 digs and four aces, sophomore Jessica Lee had 11 digs and freshman Chelsea Fan added seven kills and seven digs.
In Los Gatos, Gunn dropped itssecond straight match after back-to-back wins, falling to host Los Gatos, 25-18, 25-18, 25-15, in SCVAL De Anza Division action. The Titans fell to 2-2 and 14-7 while Los Gatos moved into third place at 2-1 and 13-7 overall. The Titans were led by senior OH Meghan Mahoney and RS Jess Dinneen with five kills each.
Gunn next will host Mountain View (and former Paly coach Dave Winn) at 6: 45 p.m. It will be "Dig Pink" Night with all proceeds to go to Breast Cancer Research and Awareness.
In the PAL Bay Division, defending champ Menlo-Atherton moved to 4-0 in league (13-1 overall) with a 25-10, 25-21, 25-23 victory over host Carlmont (3-1) in a showdown between the last remaining unbeaten teams in the division.
Gunn completed a three-match sweep for the week by firing a 164 to defeat Lynbrook (204) and host Monta Vista (224) in SCVAL golf action at the par-30 Deep Cliff Golf Course in Cupertino on Thursday.
Gunn senior Anna Zhou shot her second under-par round in as many days as she earned medalist honors with a 28. Freshman Lydia Tsai had a 1-over 31, Lianna McFarlane-Connelly shot 32, Tiffany Yang had a 34 and Margaret Redfield a 39 as the Titans improved to 9-0 in league.
In San Mateo, Menlo-Atherton moved back into a tie for first place in the PAL Bay Division race with a 244-329 dual-match victory over Hillsdale at Poplar Creek Golf Course. The Bears (5-2) were led by Abigail Pederson, who fired a 2-under 33 to earn medalist honors. Christiana Park shot 44, Angie Yang a 49, Cassidy Barman 55 and Jorja Khan a 63 for the Bears, who earned a share of first when Aragon lost to Burlingame on Thursday.
Boys water polo
Defending champion Gunn took over sole possession of first place in the SCVAL De Anza Division with a big 17-5 dunking of host Mountain View on Thursday night.
The Titans (5-0, 7-5) knocked the Spartans (4-1) into a second-place tie with Palo Alto as senior Ari Wayne poured in eight goals and Jared Gencarella added three. Gunn will host Paly on Tuesday at 3:30 p.m., with first place at stake.
"I was pleasantly surprised about the result," said Gunn coach Matt Johnson. "Obviously, Mountain View is a good team and one of our toughest games in league, so to come out and play the way we did says a lot about the work our guys put in. We keep getting better, every practice, every game. And that is our goal. Continue to improve. (Goalie Anthony) Zunino was solid, made the saves he needed to make. When he is on, we are tough."
Palo Alto (4-1, 5-8), meanwhile, remained in second place with a 10-6 victory over visiting Los Altos.
Girls water polo
Defending league champ Gunn remained in sole possession of first place in the SCVAL De Anza Division water polo race with a 6-1 triumph over host Mountain View on Thursday. Bianca Batista tallied two goals to pace the Titans (5-0, 10-3).
Palo Alto, meanwhile, turned to its juniors to get the job done as the Vikings held off visiting Los Altos, 3-2, in a key SCVAL De Anza Division match Thursday. Paly juniors Gigi Rojahn, Alina Drebin, and Katie Francis all contributed with solo goals as Paly moved to 4-1 in league (7-6 overall).
Los Altos put up the first and only goal of the first period. Rojahn's goal in the third period was the inspiration that Drebin and Francis needed to complete the victory. Paly's strong defense successfully contained Los Altos's offense for the remainder of the night.
Palo Alto will visit Gunn on Tuesday (6:45 p.m.) in a battle for first place.