Sports

Menlo-Atherton girls seek their first state volleyball title

 

If you knock on the door enough times, eventually someone will answer. That's why the Menlo-Atherton girls will be playing for a state volleyball championship on Saturday night.

The Bears have been knocking on the door in the Northern California playoffs in recent years, reaching the finals a year ago. That effort, however, fell on deaf ears.

This season, however, was different. The Bears (27-7) not only got to the NorCal finals, but upset top-seeded Monte Vista (Danville) this week and earned a date with Redondo Union (35-4) for the CIF Division I state title at Santiago Canyon College at 8 p.m.

Menlo-Atherton will be making its first-ever appearance, but first-year coach Fletcher Anderson is not overly surprised.

"When Ron Whitmill (previously the head coach at M-A and now the coach at Valley Christian) presented the opportunity at M-A to me, he told me this was a special group of girls," Anderson said. "He really loved coaching these kids and it was hard for him to leave, so he wanted to make sure someone came in who would be truly committed to the team and the girls.

"At the beginning of the season it was obvious that this was a group of ballers. I was excited about the level of competitiveness in the gym and the level of play they maintained."

Redondo Union, the defending state champion, is ranked No. 4 in the state and No. 12 in the nation by MaxPreps while M-A is No. 27 in the state and No 138 in the country.

"We played a great match (Tuesday night)," Anderson said. "These girls are playing their best volleyball and it's happening at the right time," said Anderson. "It is VERY exciting to see all of their hard work paying off."

Menlo-Atherton, which lost three starters off last year's team that lost in the NorCal finals and finished 30-4, has six seniors this season. The Bears' lineup, however, is dominated by juniors.

One of those juniors, Jacqueline DiSanto, led the way Tuesday night with a team-leading 15 kills plus 14 digs. Fellow junior Kirby Knapp contributed 46 assists, with senior Leanna Collins a recipient of many of those sets while finishing with 14 kills. Junior Alexa Roumeliotis added 31 digs for M-A.

Menlo-Atherton had a rough start to the season, going 0-3 in its first preseason matches. The Bears then went 5-0 at the Chris Chandler Invitational at Menlo School.

"That's when we knew we were going to have a successful season," Anderson said. "The girls work so hard in practice and truly just love to play volleyball and win, which makes my job easy. I don't know if I would have predicted a NorCal championship and a trip to state at that point in the season, but I definitely felt like this team was special and they've proven that they are a force to be reckoned with."

Menlo-Atherton will be out to finish the season with a championship, but this is all new for the Bears.

"Now that we have one match left, it's in uncharted territory," Anderson said. "Our focus as a coaching staff is to prepare the girls as best as we can for what we are going to face and maintain the positive, winning vibe that the group is carrying with them right now. We're still learning as we go, but we've realized that enjoying every step along the way is what it's all about for us and for the girls.

"Ultimately, we are all just excited about the upcoming match and challenge that comes along with it. These girls have continued to impress me with each and every match we've played in this playoff run and I have no doubt that they will continue to do so on Saturday."

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