The Los Altos High girls volleyball team played just as coach Peter Kim had hoped – loose and with a nothing-to-lose attitude – and that was nearly enough to pull off the big upset of the Central Coast Section playoffs.
The underdog Eagles took mighty Mitty to five games in the CCS Division II final Saturday at Independence High. Los Altos twice served for match point but couldn’t put away the defending champs, who escaped with a 23-25, 25-11, 25-22, 23-25, 18-16 victory.
Despite such a close loss, there were more smiles than frowns among the Eagles after they took the fourth-ranked team in the nation farther than almost anyone expected.
“With energy and with hard work and hustling, we got this far,” outside hitter Carmen Annevelink said. “I’m super happy with what we did. We played really well.”
No one played better than Annevelink, who tallied a match-high 30 kills. The junior added three aces and 21 digs.
Kim said he couldn’t be prouder of his girls, who heeded his advice to play hard and have fun.
“That’s what we’ve stressed all year – especially this week,” he said. “I told them, ‘This is icing on the cake. Just go out there and enjoy the whole thing.’ Every girl feeds off of that – being loose and having a lot of energy.”
The enthusiastic Eagles appeared to enjoy the match a lot more than the methodical Monarchs. Second-seeded Los Altos (32-6) celebrated each point and played in the moment; No. 1 Mitty (39-4) seemed to treat the contest as just another step toward repeating as state champs.
The Eagles played with a similar style in the Nov. 20 semifinals, sweeping St. Francis to earn a berth in this week’s Northern California playoffs (the top two teams from each section qualify).
Knowing that the season wouldn’t end Saturday only aided their efforts against Mitty, according to Annevelink.
“I think that’s one of the reasons we could come into this match so easy and see what happens,” she said.
Annevelink notched seven kills – including the game-winner – in the first set, and the Eagles reacted as if it were the match-winner. Their fans were just as joyous about the two-point victory.
Mitty didn’t panic, though, responding with a resounding 14-point win in the second game.
Los Altos fell behind 7-3 in the third game but rallied to take a 13-9 lead behind three kills from Annevelink. The Monarchs countered with six straight points to reclaim control, only to see the Eagles answer again. But after taking an 18-17 edge on Katie Tritschler’s ace, Los Altos let the set slip away. Mitty scored the next four points and didn’t relinquish the lead.
The Eagles got as close as 23-22 – on a Sarah Tritschler ace – before Mitty closed the game on back-to-back kills by Natasha Kosowicz.
Going down two games to one didn’t deter Los Altos, however. The Eagles opened the fourth game by rattling off five straight points and withstood a Mitty rally to lead 13-9 on Annevelink’s deep kill. The Monarchs made another run to lead 17-15, but Los Altos produced the next five points, ignited by Jenna Hoover’s solo block.
The Eagles maintained the advantage the rest of the set, winning it on an Annevelink kill. She recorded nine kills and two aces in the fourth game.
“She played like she’s one of the best players in our area,” Kim said.
Los Altos got off to another strong start in the fifth game, scoring the first three points. The lead grew to 8-2 on a Michelle Albright kill.
That’s when the Monarchs turned to Clare Powers. Their 6-foot-3 kill leader, who did not appear to be at full strength Saturday, played primarily in the back row before the final set. But with the match on the line, Powers moved up front and showed her power. She notched two kills in a 6-0 run that tied the game.
The set went back and forth until Meghan McDermott’s kill put Los Altos in position to win at 14-13. Mitty’s Shirin Tooloee replied with a kill, however.
The Eagles had another chance to prevail after going up 16-15, only to be denied by a kill from Mitty’s Alexa Dryer. Lauren Speckman followed with an ace and setter Kelsey Crawford delivered a dump shot to win the match for the Monarchs.
Los Altos was scheduled to open the NorCal Division II playoffs in Chico Tuesday, after the Town Crier’s press deadline. If the third-seeded Eagles beat No. 6 Pleasant Valley (23-11), they play in Saturday’s semifinals at a place to be determined.
Mustangs claim DI title
The battle of familiar foes in the CCS Division I final led to a familiar result. Homestead, which beat Palo Alto twice in league play, did so again Saturday night to win the section crown.
The second-seeded Mustangs topped the No. 5 Vikings 17-25, 25-23, 25-20, 25-19.
“We are a better team and we executed (our) plan perfectly,” said Homestead coach Gary Carroll, who – along with four of his players – lives in Los Altos. “Set 1 we had uncharacteristic serving errors, (but) we settled and took control, getting better every point thereafter.”
In what the coach described as an “outstanding performance,” Morgan Robinson racked up 27 kills for Homestead (26-7). Los Altos resident Casey Carroll (the coach’s daughter) added 20 kills with only three hitting errors. Maria Balus registered 50 assists.
Homestead, the third seed in the NorCal Division I playoffs, was scheduled to host No. 6 Heritage (30-9) Tuesday. With a win, the Mustangs play a semifinal match slated 7 p.m. Saturday at a place to be determined.
“This team is posed to go even farther in the state bracket,” coach Carroll said.
Panthers fall in semis
Pinewood, in CCS for the first time since 2008, went as far as the Division V semifinals. No. 2 Woodside Priory beat third-seeded Pinewood 25-13, 25-14, 23-25, 25-18 Nov. 20.
Mehra den Braven – MVP of the West Bay Athletic League Skyline Division – paced the Panthers with 28 kills, while middle blockers Grace Taylor and Gabby Krohn “led us to our best blocking performance of the season,” coach Michael Shorts said.
Pinewood finished the season 14-12 and placed fifth in league.
“This was a very successful season for Pinewood,” Shorts said.