SAN JOSE, Calif. – Sometimes it’s not a matter of who you play, it’s how you play.
It’s a subtle rearrangement of the letters in the word, but it means all the difference in determining national volleyball rankings. And for that reason, Palo Alto flew under the radar for much of the season. While posting a gaudy 40-1 record, the Vikings had played relatively close to home rather than travel to some of the nation’s high profile tournaments.
Long Beach Poly, Palo Alto’s opponent in the CIF Division I state championship match Saturday at the San Jose Events Center, had gone the other route. Playing at the Durango Tournament, the Redondo Power Classic and the rugged Southern Section playoffs, the Jackrabbits had climbed all the way to No. 11 in the MaxPreps Xcellent 25 National Rankings presented by Army National Guard.
But Saturday the Vikings showed it’s the how, not the who, by rallying for a 25-17, 20-25, 25-21, 11-25, 17-15 win.
The Vikings (41-1) led the Jackrabbits (39-3) two games to one but slumped badly in game four. Poly scored 10 straight points and went on to a convincing 25-11 win.
Poly then broke a 9-9 tie in game five to move within game point at 14-12. That’s when Palo Alto decided it wouldn’t be denied.
“We called a timeout and we just decided they weren’t going to win it in our house,” said Palo Alto’s Trina Ohms.
The Vikings tied the match on a block by Jackie Koening and a kill by Maddie Kuppe. After Poly’s Sa Iosia gave the Jackrabbbits game point again, Palo Alto scored the final three points for the win. Kuppe had the final two points, getting her only two aces of the match in her final two serves.
“You know we have the one loss on our record and I don’t think we would have been here if it weren’t for that one loss,” said appropriately named Palo Alto coach Dave Winn. “The resolve we showed after losing that one game helped us overcome that fourth game and it helped us to rally back. I’m happy that we are 41-1.”
The two teams played a rather sloppy final match. Poly had 15 service errors in the match while Palo Alto had 12. Palo Alto also had just a .140 attack percentage, easily the lowest of any champion at Saturday’s state tournament. Poly wasn’t much better, however, finishing with a .190 percentage. Palo Alto also had just 44 kills to Poly’s 63, but the Vikings somehow found a way to win.
The Vikings put away Poly early in game one with a 14-7 run that gave Palo Alto an 18-10 advantage. Kuppe, Kimmy Whitson and Ohms finished off the Jackrabbits with three straight kills for the 25-17 victory.
The athletic Jackrabbits stormed back in game two behind the high-flying attack of Bria Russ and the overpowering middle play of Rachelle Suava. Russ had two kills and two aces in the 25-20 win while Suava finished with six kills and a block.
The Jackrabbits looked to make it two games in a row, leading 21-19 in game three; however, the Vikings scored the final six points, including two kills by championship game MVP Melanie Wade, to pull out the 25-21 win.
The Jackrabbits forced a fifth game by dominating game four. Poly outscored Palo Alto 16-3 to win the game 25-11.
Russ led all players with 16 kills while Iosia had 15. Suava was also in double figures with 13 kills and Zana Bowens had 11. Poly seter Alisa Mesa finished with 53 assists.
For Palo Alto, Wade had 15 kills and two blocks while Kuppe had 10 kills, two blocks and two aces and Whitson had 34 assists.
Palo Alto's win gave Northern California four wins out of the five championship matches contested on Saturday. St. Francis (Mountain View), Campolindo (Moraga) and Branson also picked up wins for the North while La Jolla Country Day was the only winner for Southern California.
St. Francis (Mountain View) 3, Troy (Fullerton) 1
Unlike the famous Michael Jordan slogan, for the St Francis Lancers, it wasn’t the shoes.
Fashionably-dressed Lancer coach Leahi Hall sported stiletto heels to start the Division II state championship game against Troy of Fullerton, but after the Warriors won the first game, the pumps came off and the flats went on.
“I told the girls that if we lost a set, I would take off the pumps,” said Hall, who led St. Francis to a state record tying 12th
appearance in the state finals. “So after Troy won the first game, the flats went on. But Troy came out and played hard in that first game. I was happy that we were able to get focused in games three and four and start playing Lancer volleyball.”
St. Francis (35-5) rebounded from a 25-22 defeat in game one to win the next three games 25-21, 25-17, 25-17. The title is the ninth in school history, setting a CIF record and breaking a tie with Archbishop Mitty of San Jose in that category.
The Lancers were able to get back into the match thanks to the impressive front-line play of 6-2 Taylor Deaton, 6-3 Savannah Patten and 6-2 Caroline Walters. Deaton and Patten both earned all-tournament honors while Walters was selected as the MVP. Paffen led the team with 16 kills while Deaton had 14 and Walters was tied with Chloe Watt with 11.
Walters came up big in the final stretches of the last two games. She had the final two kills in game three and the gamewinner in game four. She also had two of the final three points in game two.
Troy (35-3) got off to a good start behind the play of outside hitter Maddy Barrett, who finished with a team-high 13 kills.
Taylor Formico had a game-high 52 assists while Lacy Coquillard had 26 digs and Veronica Komisarek had 23 digs for the Lancers. Nikki Brice of Troy had a game-high 38 digs.Campolindo (Moraga) 3, Cathedral Catholic (San Diego) 2
Championship game MVP Mary Vaccaro led Campolindo to wins in the first two games of the Division III state championship match against two-time defending champion Cathedral Catholic, but it was a team effort in game five that gave the Cougars the state championship.
“It’s one thing to have a star player like Mary but it’s another to have a team that can fill in around that star player when you need them to,” said Campolindo coach Scott Bishop. “With Mary hurt, we really won that fifth game as a team and that’s what was so great about this match.”
Vaccaro, who sat out the last two seasons to play the beach volleyball circuit, rejoined the team as a senior and led the Cougars to the state finals for the first time since 2006 when the Cougars last won a state title. Vaccaro came up big in the first two games, but her aggressive play resulted in a hip injury on a dig attempt in the second game.
“I was diving to get the ball and I hit just above my hip,” said Vaccaro. “The muscles started to clench up and my leg kept going out so that made it hard to walk.”
Nevertheless, Vaccaro gutted through the next two games, but Cathedral Catholic was able to gain the momentum with two straight wins to set up game five.
With Vaccaro’s mobility limited, the Cougars began to set Abbie Noland more often. She responded with four kills in game five. Libero Sophie Smith also came up with several big saves on hits by Dons standout Taylor Milton to keep the momentum on the side of the Cougars.
“Those two saves were incredible because not only were they momentum savers, they were momentum doublers,” said Bishop. “We got them early in the game, but that made the end of the game much easier because we had a bigger lead due to those saves.”
Vaccaro and Annie Shurtz had the final two kills to give Campolindo the 15-10 win.
Vaccaro had 20 kills, most of them in the first two games, while Noland finished with 15 and Anisa Smith notched 10. Sophie Seiberth led the attack with 49 assists while Smith had 18 digs. Vacarro also added 17 digs while Noland had 12.
Milton led the Cathedral Catholic hitting attack with 29 kills (to go with a team-high 16 digs) while Morgan Cormier had 14 kills and Lindsay Elgin 12. Setter Jaclyn Williamson had 59 assists and 14 digs.
All five games were closely contested with Campolindo (34-4) winning the first two 27-25 and 25-23. Vaccaro had six kills in the first game and five in the second.
However Vaccaro injured her hip on a dig attempt and the Dons (31-10) were able to take advantage. Cathedral Catholic won the next two games 25-21, 25-18 behind the hitting of Milton to force the decisive fifth game.
Branson (Ross) 3, Tri-City Christian (Vista) 0
Facing a possible fourth game against Tri-City Christian in the Division V state championship game, the Branson Bulls went on a 17-3 run to close out game three and collect their second straight state title, 25-17, 25-20, 25-22.
"We made a lot of unforced errors in that third game, but Tri-City (26-16) came out and hit the ball really hard," said Branson coach Michelle Brazil. "But there was never a moment where I didn't think we could come back and win. We just play it one point at a time."
Branson (33-6) faced a similar situation just four days earlier in the NorCal Regional Championships against Hamilton, trailing 19-11 in game four before winning 25-22 in the decisive fourth game.
"We had done it before against Hamilton so I knew we could do it again," said Brazil. "That was as recently as Tuesday, but Tuesday seems like a year ago."
Down 19-8, Branson took advantage of five straight unforced errors by Tri-City to climb back to 19-13. Championship game MVP Kathleen Wallace added an ace and Alex Schoenberger added two kills and a block to make it 20-19 Tri-City.
Wallace eventually closed out the game with a kill giving Branson the title.
"This is the greatest feeling in my volleyball career," said Wallace. "To win a state title and be named the MVP, It doesn't get any better.
Wallace finished with 12 kills and three aces while Schoenberger led the team with 13 kills and 10 digs. Meghan Wentzel posted 29 assists.
For Tri-City Christian, Joy Reinke had 13 kills and freshman McKenna Hollingsworth had 10.La Jolla Country Day (La Jolla) 3, Sacred Heart Prep (Atherton) 0
La Jolla Country Day's second straight Division IV state championship was less a celebration and more of a culmination.
Torrey coach Pete Ogle noted after his team's 25-10, 25-15, 25-13 win over Sacred Heart Prep that he will never see the likes of a team like this year's squad.
"I got real excited when I saw them as freshmen and they got better as volleyball players each year," said Ogle. "But I've been at Country Day for 33 years and this is the best team I've ever had or will ever have. It's just incredible."
The Torreys won last year's state title and lost only one game on the season. This year Ogle sought out a tougher schedule and excelled, compiling a 33-3 record with two of those losses coming against San Diego Section Division I champion La Costa Canyon.
The tougher competition allowed the Torreys to take command throughout each of the three games in the Division IV final against the Gators. Sacred Heart Prep (24-11) racked up just 14 kills and 13 assists in the three-game match while the Torreys had 41 kills and 37 assists.
Championship game MVP Chloe Mathis led the attack for the Torreys, registering 33 assists and five kills to go with three aces. Mollie Rogers and Gillian Howard shared high kill honors with Rogers getting 11 and Howard added 10 with six blocks.