Clearly, the Knights are out to change things up this season. Perhaps they're looking for additional inspiration to end six years of frustration.
Despite winning 188 straight league dual matches and being undefeated in league play since the start of the 1994 season — 18 years and counting — Menlo has suffered through a drought in the Central Coast Section playoffs.
The Knights last appeared in the section title match in 2006 — losing to Monta Vista — and last won a CCS team championship in 2005.
Menlo, however, returns 14 players who were on the roster at the end of the 2011 season that ended 20-5 with a loss to Monta Vista in the semifinals.
The Knights are a year older and more experienced. Moreover, they are best-suited to make a run at the Matadors this season — certainly in better shape to reach the CCS finals and qualify for NorCals.
"Everybody is a year older and I've got all my singles players back," said Bill Shine, now in his 17th season as the Knights' head coach. "My top four are really, really solid and we're really working hard on our doubles."
While Menlo is the winningest CCS team in history with seven section titles, Monta Vista is the defending CCS champ and has been the dominant team recently with five section crowns since 2003. The Matadors have eliminated Menlo from the past two section tournaments in the semifinals.
"Monta Vista didn't graduate anybody and they got a really good freshman," said Shine. "It seems like they haven't graduated anyone the past couple of years. Monta Vista is clearly the team to beat."
Menlo, of course, is among the challengers along with Mitty and 2011 runner-up Saratoga, which captured section titles in 2009 and '10. The Falcons, however, aren't as strong this season and Menlo proved that with a big 7-0 nonleague victory on Wednesday in Atherton.
The Knights (2-0) swept the singles with only one match going to three sets — Ong pulling out a 2-6, 7-6 (7-2), 6-3 victory at No. 3 singles. Ong is the only senior in Menlo's singles' lineup. Sophomore Liz Yao won at No. 1, junior Kristy Jorgensen prevailed at No. 2 and junior Christine Eliazo swept at No. 4.
Shine, meanwhile, picked up his 375th career triumph at Menlo (against 65 losses). He was most impressed with his team's play in doubles, which will be a crucial aspect to Menlo's success this season.
"We can't count on our No. 1 singles player winning every match," said Shine. "The doubles have to come through."
Senior Laura Gradiska teamed with sophomore Helena Ong to win, 6-1, 6-2, at No. 1 while senior Sam Hoag and sophomore Sadie Bronk posted a 6-2, 6-1 triumph at No. 2. Golikova and junior Sarah Schinasi swept at No. 3 doubles.
Menlo next will compete in the California Classic in Fresno this weekend, where Dana Hills is the No. 1 seed and Monta Vista is No. 2. The Knights also will host Monta Vista on Sept. 19 in what could be a preview of the CCS finals.
Sacred Heart Prep opened its season with a tough 4-3 loss to host Los Altos. The Gators managed only one singles victory, by Caroline Nordman at No. 1, but had a chance in doubles. The No. 2 tandem of Caroline Parsons and Maddy Jones put SHP in position to win after a 6-4 opening set, but the Gators' duo then dropped the next two sets.
The first-ever Gunn girls' golf team make its debut a successful one by handing visiting Sacred Heart Prep a nonleague defeat on Wednesday, 235-251, at Palo Alto Municipal.
Gunn sophomore Anna Zhou led the Titans (1-0) with a 1-under-par 36 as she registered eight pars and one birdie. Teammate Jayshree Sarathy added a 40, notching six pars. Tiffany Yang (47), Sandra Herchen (56) and Somina Lee (56) wrapped up the Titans' first-ever dual-match effort.
Sophomore Jessica Koenig shot 45 to lead the Gators (1-1) with teammate Maddy Ellison a stroke behind her.
On Tuesday, Koenig, a former Sacred Heart Prep water polo player, made the most of her transition to the golf team leading the Gators over Mercy-Burlingame, 249-319, in the first match of the 2012 West Bay Athletic League (Foothill Division) season. Koenig shot a 42 to earn medalist honors while Ellison contributed a 48 for the Gators on the par-36 Sharon Heights Country Club course.
Menlo School used some precise serving to register a three-set victory over visiting Aragon in a nonleague match Wednesday. The Knights (4-2), coming off a sixth-place finish at Spikefest I last weekend, beat the Dons, 25-13, 25-12, 25-19.
Menlo junior Maddy Frappier notched eight kills and senior Emma Thygesen collected seven. Junior Abbey Schmitt (19 assists) and senior Alexandra Ko (nine assists) distributed well for the Knights, who hit .266 for the match.
"I think the key to us dominating the match was tough accurate serving," Menlo coach Atlee Hubbard said. "We struggled a little with serving in the Spikefest tournament and worked on it this week in practice. Tonight was exactly what our serving should be."
In San Mateo, first-year coach Dustin Moore got his first victory of the season as Priory registered a 25-23, 25-23, 23-25, 25-17 nonleague victory over host San Mateo on Wednesday. The Panthers improved to 1-1, bouncing back from a season-opening loss to Harker last week.
On Tuesday, Sacred Heart Prep improved to 6-1 with a 25-19, 25-21, 25-23 nonleague win over visiting Menlo-Atherton. Ellie Shannon produced 13 kills and four blocks to pace the Gators, who won the Silver Division of the Spikefest I on Saturday. Against the Bears, the Gators got nine kills and 10 digs from Sonia Abuel-Saud, seven kills and six blocks from Payton Smith, 10 digs from Helen Gannon and 26 assists from Cammie Merten.
The Bears (0-1) were missing last year's MVP in the PAL Bay Division, Ali Spindt, while Pauli King was limited to libero duties while coming back from injury. Alyssa Ostrow led M-A with eight kills while Katelyn Doherty added seven kills and eight digs with sophomore setter Kaitlin Tavarez finishing with 21 assists and eight digs.
Also Tuesday, senior Shelby Knowles contributed 14 kills and 10 digs as two-time defending CIF Division I state champion Palo Alto opened its season with a 25-20, 25-23, 25-20 nonleague victory over visiting Notre Dame-Belmont. The victory was the 22nd straight for the Vikings, who capped the 2011 season with a 21-match win streak.
Sophia Bono, who is the only other senior on the team and one of two co-captains, added 35 assists in her lengthiest playing stint while junior Becca Raffel finished with 11 kills. Keri Gee added 15 digs to lead the Vikings in that department. Paly is now 78-4 since the start of the 2010 season.
Girls' water polo
Menlo-Atherton got its 2012 season off to a good start with a 10-7 nonleague victory over visiting Presentation on Wednesday evening. The teams traded scoring for three periods with neither team leading by more than a goal. But, in the final minute of the third period, the Bears ramped up their attack.
A goal from junior Jessica Heilman broke a 6-6 tie to give the Bears a one-goal lead going into the final period. The fourth quarter was all Bears with senior Jenna Swartz scoring two goals late to help secure the win.
Junior goalie Sierra Sheeper had 10 saves and some key denials late. M-A recorded 10 steals, with Swartz and junior Nicole Zanolli leading the effort with three apiece, while Heilman and junior Samantha Henze had two.
The Bears had four players find the net — Heilman notching five goals with junior Sophia Caryotakis and Swartz scoring twice. Zanolli added a second- period goal.