When the Los Altos High girls volleyball team looks back at this season, the players and coaches probably won’t dwell on their lopsided loss to Mitty in last week’s Northern California Division II final.
After all, few people expected them to hang with the Monarchs – ranked No. 1 in the nation – for a second time this year.
The Eagles are more likely to reflect fondly on the journey that took them farther than any team in school history.
“I think every single one of us, especially me as a senior, is going to look back at this and just be amazed at all we’ve accomplished this whole season and be proud of the team and the program we’re going to be building for the future,” co-captain Meghan McDermott said after the Dec. 3 match Mitty won 25-20, 25-12, 25-14.
While outside hitter McDermott, setter Hanna Koehler, opposite hitter Michelle Albright and libero Katie Tritschler won’t be part of that future – all four starters graduate in the spring – coach Peter Kim intends to return. He guided Los Altos to a 34-7 record this season, his third at the helm.
“This team has accomplished so much this year,” Kim said. “I’ll look back on it fondly and with a smile. It’s a great group of players, great admin, great parents. It’s been like a total family thing. Everyone’s going to remember this forever.”
Although the Eagles’ stellar season didn’t produce any championships – they finished second in their league, section and region – the squad achieved a new level of success. This is the first Los Altos team in any sport to advance to a NorCal final.
“I’m just super proud of these girls for getting to this point,” said Kim, whose team won two road matches to reach the final.
Stunning the defending state champs in their gym proved too tall a task for a Los Altos team not as tall – or as seasoned – as the Monarchs (40-4), especially with their kill leader back at full strength.
When the squads met in the CCS Division II final 10 days earlier, 6-foot-3 outside hitter Clare Powers played sparingly due to an ankle injury and the Eagles nearly pulled off the biggest upset of the playoffs. They took the top seed to five sets, twice serving for match point before Mitty eked out the victory.
Powers looked like a different player in the NorCal final, notching 12 kills and 14 digs.
“I think she’s a huge leader on the court and definitely a phenomenal hitter and passer,” McDermott said. “I think having her back on the court made the team jell a little bit better. That was a huge key for them tonight.”
Powers notched five kills in the first set, including the game-winner on a shot up the middle.
Teammate Alexa Dryer – who at 6-4 was the most imposing figure on the court – also tallied 12 kills, along with four solo blocks. The junior middle blocker scored three points in the Monarchs’ 8-2 run to start the match.
Los Altos fought back, however, tying the game at 17 on a crushing kill by outside hitter Carmen Annevelink. The junior recorded five of her team-high 11 kills in the first set.
The Eagles weren’t able to take the lead, though. Mitty scored the next three points – two courtesy of kills by Powers – prompting a Los Altos timeout. The Eagles responded with back-to-back points, the second on Tritschler’s ace.
With their lead narrowed to 20-19, the Monarchs called timeout. They regrouped and quickly regained control by scoring four straight points – the last on a far-corner kill by Powers. Los Altos mustered one more point, thanks to a Mitty service error, before Powers put the set away.
The Eagles scored the initial point of the second set on a Koehler ace for their first lead of the night. The teams traded points before the Monarchs went on a major run after Albright’s cross-court kill tied the score at 3. Los Altos used both its timeouts during the 12-2 spurt and didn’t get closer than nine points of Mitty the rest of the set.
The Eagles scored first in the third set on an Annevelink kill and notched another one on a perfect set from Koehler that gave them a 4-3 lead. The Monarchs answered with a six-point run and never trailed again. Los Altos got as close as 10-8 on McDermott’s kill down the left sideline. Mitty scored the next three points and soon pulled away.
“Like the great team they are, they really came out to play,” Kim said of Mitty. “They played super defense over on their side. If you don’t have the big guns like they do, it’s hard to compete with them.”
McDermott – who recorded three kills, two solo blocks and 12 digs in the match – agreed.
“Mitty has phenomenal players all around. They’re definitely a very strong team,” she said. “The only way we knew we could win was if we played together as a team and played loose. I think we didn’t have our best match of the whole season, but this match is not going to define our season. We had so many other incredible matches that we won and played really well, so I’m proud of us.”
2013 girls volleyball: Los Altos High School vs. Mitty in CIF Final - Photos by Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier