Menlo stays home, Sacred Heart Prep goes on the road


The Menlo School girls volleyball team stays at home for its Northern California Division IV tournament semifinal match. Sacred Heart Prep will need to win on the road to play again.

The top-seeded Knights beat visiting Cardinal Newman, 25-17, 25-16, 25-19, Saturday night and will host No. 4 Branson in one semifinal match Tuesday night at 7 p.m.

The third-seeded Gators topped visiting St. Joseph's Notre Dame, 25-23, 25-19, 23-25, 25-8, within easy walking distance of Menlo's gym, though they will travel to No. 2 Monte Vista Christian-Watsonville for their semifinal match Tuesday night in a rematch of the CCS Division IV championship contest.

Menlo (22-8) and Branson (23-11) have one common opponent and that's Cardinal Newman. Both teams swept the Cardinals in three matches.

Sacred Heart Prep (26-11) and Monte Vista Christian (32-5) have four common opponents and a match against each other. The Gators are 6-1 and the Mustangs are 4-2, with the major difference being the Mustangs have a win over San Benito and the Gators don't.

Even with the match being played in Watsonville, the Gators are confident they can return victorious. Senior middle blocker Sammy Phillips, who had 12 kills and five blocks against the Pilots, emphasized the team learns a lot more from a loss than a win. It's another chance to put the lesson to the test.

Phillips has recorded 28 of her season total of 103 blocks in the last five matches. Only senior Natalie Zimits has more.

Cate Desler, a junior outside hitter, had 15 kills and has recorded double-digit kills in her last eight straight, pushing her to 417 on the year.

Senior Rachael Cheung had 11 digs and produced double-figures in digs in back-to-back games for the first time this season. Junior libero Caroline Caruso entered the game with a season-high seven straight double-figure games.

Setters Haley Martella and Alexa Thompson again shared 42 assists and sophomore Ally Polverari had seven kills and three blocks.

Menlo accomplished one goal by reaching the regional semifinals, a step further that it achieved last year when Notre Dame-Belmont handed the Knights a loss en route to its state Division IV title.

"Moving Notre Dame to the Open Division really opened the door for other teams," Menlo coach Marco Paglialunga said. "I'm really proud of what they've done during the season. Win or lose, I can't be more proud."

The Knights started the CCS playoffs as the eighth seed and were pitted against Mitty, currently the nation's top-ranked team.

"It gave us the strength and the will to go back to the gym and work even harder. If it was even possible because actually, they always work hard," Menlo coach Marco Paglialunga said. "The match gave them more chances and more faith that we have a chance to win NorCal Division. They are holding this dream, and doing their best every single practice and every single ball."

Senior Mia Vandermeer, who had five blocks and four kills, thought the Monarchs' match was critical in helping Menlo prepare for the Northern California playoffs.

"It was amazing," he said. "We were so pumped to play them and we put up our best fight. When you play the No. 1 team in the nation, it's going to help for any match you have after that. We learned a lot, especially on things we need to work on. It's all part of the process."

It also doesn't hurt that Menlo has home court advantage through the NorCals.

"This was our goal," Vandermeer said. "To make it on the road to state. Branson is a pretty good team and we know some of their players. Being at home, with our great fans, just adds to it. Our last game will either be at home or at state. This is what we wanted."

Against the Cardinals, Menlo junior opposite Ashley Dreyer and sophomore outside hitter Grace King each posted nine kills. Senior Dea Dressel added seven, hitting .600.

Senior libero Jessica Houghton picked up 17 digs while sophomore Selina Xu posted 20 assists and junior Kristin Sellers contributed 13 assists.

"With each game, we're coming in with the mindset this could be our last game," Dreyer said. "I think we all just wanted to put our best in, and no matter if we won or lost this game, I think this was great because we were fighting for it. This is the mindset we need to have."

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