The Bears had to "settle" for Mater Dei, which reached the second round of the state Division I playoffs.
Mater Dei was ranked No. 1 in the nation and had not dropped a set when it arrived in M-A's gym. The Bears took care of that in the first set before losing in four.
M-A opened its season with a five-set victory over Menlo, a team that also reached the second round of the state playoffs in Division II.
Then there were a series of five-set losses to WCAL teams St. Ignatius, coached by former Paly coach Dave Huan, Valley Christian and Presentation.
Those four teams are currently a combined 64-17.
M-A had a 10-match winning streak entering its match against Terra Nova on Thursday night, having dropped a total of three sets over that stretch.
The Bears have used a variety of players without much of a drop off this year.
In the Peninsula Athletic League Bay Division, Menlo-Atherton is in control of its own destiny.
The Bears (5-0, 11-4) won their 10th consecutive match Tuesday, beating host Hillsdale, 25-27, 25-17, 25-9, 25-19.
Senior Kirby Knapp, who had 31 assists and 10 digs in the win over Hillsdale, missed a few matches to allow an injury to heal. Fellow senior Casey Olsen stepped in and led the Bears to a series of victories.
Eliza Grover, nine kills and 10 digs against the Knights, has stepped up when needed and Jacqueline DiSanto continues to play consistently well. DiSanto had 11 kills and 13 digs Tuesday.
Alicia Letvin turned in an overall fine performance against Hillsdale, recording a team-best .312 hitting percentage and four blocks to go with five kills.
Menlo School junior Ashley Dreyer has her own cheering section. Every time the left-hander powers a volleyball for a point, the Knights' start what looks like the Seminoles' chop and chant 'Ash-ley ... Ash-ley.'
For the most part, though, the students use their right hand. "Maybe they're just being ironic," Dreyer theorized.
There was nothing ironic about Menlo School's 25-19, 25-17, 23-25, 25-21 victory over visiting Sacred Heart Prep on Tuesday night in a West Bay Athletic League Foothill Division girls' volleyball match.
The victory gave the Knights (2-1, 15-4) a chance to refocus their sights on Notre Dame-Belmont, who came over from the West Catholic Athletic League (a three-year process) after capturing the state Division IV title last December.
The Tigers beat Menlo, the defending WBAL Foothill co-champion, in five sets earlier in the month. Dreyer thinks her team is getting closer to beating Notre Dame.
"The past two times we've lost in the fifth set and it seems to come down to the final point," she said. "We can beat them and we fought so hard both times. We're getting close to beating them."
The fifth-set went to 15-13 this year. In the second round of the NorCal playoffs last year, the fifth set went to 17-15.
The Knights still needed to focus on Sacred Heart Prep, which beat the Knights at Spikefest I at the beginning of the season, its first win over Menlo in two years.
"We are more consistent with our serving," Menlo coach Marco Paglialunga said of his team's improvement since. "That's the main difference. We know what we have to do."
Sophomore Grace King led the Knights with 11 kills and Dreyer added 10. Selina Xu and Mia Vandermeer, Menlo's top returning attacker from last year, each had eight.
The Gators (2-1, 13-6) matched Menlo from the attack standpoint, with Cate Desler recording 14 kills and Natalie Zimits adding 11.
The Knights managed to get to more balls and kept rallies alive. A lot of that has to do with senior libero Jessica Houghton, who recorded a match-high 23 digs. Kristin Sellers and Riley Holland were also effective, combining for an additional 25 digs.
"Our confidence is improving a lot," Paglialunga said. "We're starting to understand that we have the ability. The third set, when we came back to tie it, 20-20, was a clear sign that we're never going to give up."
The Gators also displayed some fortitude during that set. Menlo kept whittling away at an eight-point deficit and took the lead at one point before Sacred Heart Prep gathered itself and responded with a winning rally.
Haley Martella's set point was a marvel. She initially had to dig a difficult ball before delivering the winning strike.
"This was an important game for us," Dreyer said. "It's a rivalry game, but I think Notre Dame has become a bigger rivalry and they're the ones we have in the back of our minds."
The Tigers play at Menlo on Oct. 13.
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