Indianapolis bound | April 12, 2019 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - April 12, 2019

Indianapolis bound

A dozen players working together meet their goal

by Rick Eymer

You have to be a quick learner and have the ability to get along with people you'd normally try to beat from the other side of the net.

That's what a group of 12 freshman girls' volleyball players, representing seven local high schools, did over the weekend. They set aside any school loyalities to merge together as a team, of the team and for the team.

Many were playing with each other for the first time and turned the experience into a huge success, helping Academy Volleyball 15-Gold team place third at the ShowMe Qualifier in Kansas City, earning a spot in the USA Division of the Junior National Championships, which run June 26 through July 6 in Indianapolis.

Players included Gunn freshman Micaela Leong, Palo Alto freshmen Thea Enache and Alison Xiong and Menlo School freshmen Jhila Ferdows, Zoe Gregory, Alli McKenney and Sharon Nejad, who helped the Knights girls basketball team win a state title last month, Menlo-Atherton's Kate Hansen, Merritt Olson, Woodside's Erin Davis, Homestead's Dalia Querenet De Breville and St. Francis' Lauren Squires.

Academy won its first five matches, three in pool play, to qualify for the nationals. Academy swept all three matches in pool play and then managed to earn a pair of hard-fought wins in the playoffs.

Academy opened the playoffs with a 25-21, 13-25, 15-9 decision over Arete 15 Nay Telis and followed that with an even more dramatic victory over OP2 15-1 of Oklahoma, 17-25, 25-23, 15-13.

Eventual champion Attack 15 Black ended Academy's win streak on Monday night.

The team was right back at practice the next day in Palo Alto.

Former Palo Alto coach Daniele Desiderio heads the coaching staff and was joined by Vladimir Tchernichov and Kai Mashima.

Last month, the Academy Volleyball 17 Gold team, comprised almost entirely of local high school juniors, won the American Division title at the Colorado Crossroads Qualifier in Denver to earn a bid into the Junior Nationals this summer.

Their roster includes six players named to an all-league team in the fall, including Sacred Heart Prep's Reagan Smith, Menlo-Atherton's Natalie Grover, Woodside's Elena Campbell and Molly Buddie, Gunn's Odeya Russo and Presentation's Andie Valenzuela.

Just as important are the other six players, who all contributed to their high school teams: M-A's Mariah Grover and Bella Shermis, Palo Alto's Grace Thayer, Menlo's Kaila Ting, Washington Fremont's Kaeli Monahan and More San Jose's Kate Blackwell.

Academy Volleyball is relatively new to the club scene. Based in Palo Alto, the team also practices at Woodside. Administrators and coaches include Desiderio, current Paly coach Benjamin Saetang, M-A coach Jairo Sierra, Woodside's Sonja Gavioli and SHP boys' coach Ren Almanzor.

The 17 Gold is coached by former Stanford star Denny Falls, currently an assistant for the Menlo College men's team. There are also dozens of current or former college players around to help.