Sports

Heartbreak alone won't stop Paly, Gators girls volleyball

 

The match ended a little bit early for Chelsea Fan. It was the beginning of the end for the Palo Alto girls volleyball team.

Fan rolled her right ankle near the end of the third set, landing on the foot of a Los Gatos player just as the set was tied at 24.


Natalie Zimits (17), Caroline Acruso and Annie Bair hold the second-place trophy.
The top-seeded Vikings (23-10) went on to win that set, but dropped the next two, falling to their SCVAL rival Wildcats, 25-23, 19-25, 24-26, 25-15, 15-13, in Saturday's Central Coast Section Division I final at Independence High in San Jose.

Fan, Palo Alto's kills leader, was on her hands and knees, not able to move because of the ankle, which ballooned to twice its size and was immediately iced.

She was unable to put any pressure on her right foot and spent considerable time lying on her back, her foot, wrapped in ice, sticking upward.

"We were all a little freaked out when it happened," Palo Alto senior Jessica Lee said. "It unsettled everybody. Losing Chelsea hurt us because she's such a big part of the offense. When we play Los Gatos, we always have good matches because they play good defense."

The seventh-seeded Wildcats (19-15) took a tough road to the final, beating the top three seeds to claim the title. Both teams will play in the NorCals, with opponents and times to be determined by Sunday morning.

Sacred Heart Prep (24-11) will also get another chance to play after dropping a 25-18, 15-25, 25-23, 25-19 decision to Monte Vista Christian (30-5) in the Division IV finals.

"It really is heart-breaking but it will drive us to be much better," Gators' senior middle blocker Sammy Phillips said. "I look forward to practice on Monday and to be able to go to state."

Division I

Things were going to be difficult with or without Fan. Paly and the Wildcats met for the fourth time this season at Independence High and neither team seemed willing to give up a point.

"We were playing clean volleyball and making serves," Palo Alto coach Jekara Wilson said. "We started committing hitting errors and couldn't keep it in. They hustled to the ball and we didn't."

Fan already had 11 kills, 12 digs and was hitting .440 at the time she went down.

"My heart went to the bottom of my stomach," Wilson said. "We were trying to make adjustments in a high intensity game and we felt a little pressured. I think we fought hard even after the injury."

Lee had 11 digs to go with 29 assists. Fiona Green totaled 13 kills and 13 digs while Susanna Limb recorded 19 digs.

It took a handful of players to fill in for Fan. Mallory Kuppe, just up from the junior varsity, filled her role in the back row and both Avery Wooten and Denise Ringwalt played in the front row.

"It's been a special season so far and we've been fortunate to have made it all the way here," Wilson said. "The girls should be proud."

Cassandra Fong (24 assists) and Isabella Marcus (9 kills) also played important roles for the Vikings.

"We had a lot of returning players this year and the team chemistry came together quickly," Lee said. "That was an advantage for us. It's also nice to know, that win or lose today, we still get to play at least one more game."

Division IV

It's tough to say that anything went wrong for Sacred Heart Prep, who reached its first CCS final in four years. It's easier to point how well Monte Vista Christian played.

The Gators left it all on the court and for this day, it just didn't work out.

"We definitely have a chance to improve," said Phillips, who had 11 kills and 10 blocks in one of her finest efforts of the season. "Sometimes, if you have to lose games, you can learn a lot more. I look forward to getting back to the NorCals."

Sacred Heart Prep coach Allison Magner has no doubt the team will respond.

"We have incredible senior leadership," Magner said. "This group of girls has the best synergy I've seen since I've been a coach."

That's saying a lot seeing that Magner, at one time, was the second-youngest NCAA Division I coach in the country. She coached at the college level for 10 years before coming to Sacred Heart Prep, including stops at Alabama-Birmingham, West Carolina and Academy of Art, where she helped start the program in 2008.

Phillips said the seniors have banded together not just as players, but as friends.

"It's an amazing group of girls," she said. "We all love each other and have been friends for a long time. I'm so fortunate to be playing with these girls and to be continuing the season with them. It's what makes this season so memorable."

Natalie Zimits added 15 kills and six blocks, Cate Desler had 16 kills and three aces, Caroline Caruso recorded 17digs and Haley Martella had 44 assists.

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