Spartans' sizzling start surprises coach

Photos by Natasha Keck/Special to the Town Crier
Defensive specialist Audrey Moir, left, and setter Logan Winn have played integral roles in Mountain View’s fast start this season.

Coach Dave Winn described himself as an optimistic person, yet even he didn’t expect his Mountain View High girls volleyball team to start the season this well. Not even close.

“I figured we’d go through some growing pains,” said Winn, whose Spartans improved to 18-4 overall with last week’s sweep of Los Gatos. “I would have been happy with a .500 season.”

That’s because Mountain View last spring graduated three first-team all-leaguers – middle blocker Kyra Palmbush, outside hitter Rey Turner and setter Ashley Kane – who led the squad to the Central Coast Section Divi-sion II final a year ago.

“We have new leaders and a lot of new starters, so I figured we’d take some lumps,” said Winn, last year’s SCVAL De Anza Division Coach of the Year. “But we have hardworking kids, and they’ve stepped up.”

The coach’s daughter, starting setter Logan Winn, observed that commitment to improvement from her fellow Spartans long before the season began.

“In the open gyms, I was happy to see that they were super into volleyball and had a great work ethic,” the senior co-captain said. “And everyone gets along – there are no mean girls – and that’s important in volleyball.”

That chemistry seemed to only get stronger as the team strung together eight straight wins to start the year, according to the Winns. But then the Spartans suffered four losses in a six-day span, including their first two league matches. The last of those setbacks – a Sept. 17 home loss to Gunn in which Mountain View blew a two-set lead – “was a turning point,” the coach said.

“We collapsed in the third set,” he added. “It was very embarrassing, and I didn’t coach well. I thought, ‘If we keep going at this rate, it’s going to be a long season.’ But sometimes it takes a tough loss to refocus a team, and we refocused and reconnected.”

Logan and co-captain Julia Bennett helped that along by holding a players-only meeting in which they urged the Spartans to show their resolve.

“It was a tough week and not what we wanted our season to be, and we knew we had to fight harder,” Logan said. “The next week was a complete turnaround.”

Mountain View responded by sweeping Monta Vista before beating Homestead in four sets to get to 2-2 in league. The Spartans then won the Sept. 28 MVLA Tournament – which it co-hosts with Los Altos – by sweeping the Eagles in the final.

“It always feels nice to beat your rival,” said Logan, who notched 17 assists, three blocks and two aces in the victory.

After the Oct. 1 victory at Los Gatos, Logan had amassed a team-best 436 assists for the season. An early commit to the University of Puget Sound, she ranks second on the squad in digs and third in aces.

Junior right-side hitter Kiana Manson – whom the coach called “really powerful” – is the team’s kill leader, and “she always has the most energy on the court,” he added.

Middle blocker/outside hitter Nicole Guibord and outside hitter Cate Schiller are second and third, respectively, in the kill category.

“They have a bigger role this year,” Logan said of the two seniors. “They have really stepped up and are really important.”

Coach Winn named Guibord as the team’s biggest surprise.

“She tore her ACL her sophomore year and last year she struggled a bit with her hitting and passing,” he said. “She’s really focused on being steady, and her hitting and passing have improved.”

Middle blockers Bennett (a senior) and Ava Kopp (junior) rank behind only the 6-foot-1 Manson in blocks. Audrey Moir is back as Mountain View’s starting libero. The junior tops the team in digs and aces.

The Spartans also have three freshmen on the roster: Lydia Weeks and Andisheh Turner contribute as defensive specialists; Tessa Hunter is a reserve outside hitter.

“Our three new freshmen are super strong,” Logan said.

But are the Spartans strong enough to reach the CCS finals for the third year in a row? Coach Winn acknowledged that it won’t be easy – especially since they’ve moved to Division I because the school’s population increased this year.

“Division I is full of good teams and now it includes all the teams in the De Anza. “It’s probably tougher than Division II,” he said. “But based on how we’ve played against good teams, especially in the last few weeks, I feel like we can contend in Division I.”

Logan agreed.

“Every game, the bar has been raised (for us),” she said. “It almost feels like there are no limits right now – we keep raising it each time – and I’m optimistic and hopeful.”

Mountain View is scheduled to visit Gunn 6:45 p.m. Friday.

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