Kirby Knapp has been down this road before and expects the experience of last season will lead to better things this time around.
Second-year coach Fletcher Anderson also learned from Menlo-Atherton's trip to the state girls volleyball championships last year. The Bears (30-5) should have a better trip to Santiago Canyon College, where they meet Edison (35-8) for the Division I championship at 4:30 p.m. Friday night.
"These girls are very experienced. They have been here before and not just last year but the year before when they lost in the NorCal final," Anderson said. "They're hungry. They really want it and they've taken progressive steps every year. I can count on them to do their job."
Knapp has been doing her job through it all, setting for outstanding hitters the past three years. She has all the confidence in the world in her two main hitters Jacqueline DiSanto and Eliza Grover, who have combined for 833 of the team's 1,361 kills.
So much confidence, in fact, that she often waits until the last possible moment before deciding where to set it.
"It depends on how the defense is setting up," Knapp said. "I can set forward or backward because I know one of them will be there."
The Bears held their final practices this week. They only have a Friday passaround left before the final competition. This year, that day has been planned out as favorable as it can.
"Last year taught us a lesson," Anderson said. "We messed up the schedule. We had to eat dinner at 5:30 p.m. (for a 7 p.m. match) in the bus, without the driver and in the dark. The whole day was chaotic. We had to do our passaround in a part of a gym where boys were practicing. The girls were distracted."
There will be no distractions this time. The players have already decided. After all, for about a half dozen seniors, this is it.
The seniors will be missed next year, perhaps none more than Knapp, who will be attending Washington University in St. Louis, a Division III volleyball powerhouse.
The Bears reached the national championship match this season and return all but two players from that squad. Washington owns 10 NCAA Division III titles.
"The younger players have been looking up to them the past couple of years," Anderson said. "Especially the middles who love Kirby as setter."
Sophomore Alicia Letvin has a .348 hitting percentage on 98 kills and freshman Marit Hoyem owns a .355 hitting percentage on 121 kills. Junior Lauren Heller and senior Kiana Sales have 138 and 133 kills, respectively.
Anderson, the first coach to qualify for the state finals in each of his first two years, gave the 5-foot-5 Michigan-bound DiSanto the chance to become an outside hitter after watching her play as a libero with a club team before he took over as M-A's coach.
"I just liked the way she played," Anderson said. "She went all out and was willing to sacrifice her body. She was all over the court, controlling the court."
Michigan recruited her as a libero/defensive specialist, but she's turned herself into an outside hitter more than once.
"Every game, every practice, she always improves," Anderson said. "There's nothing she can't do. She rises to the occasion and loves challenges."