Although the Los Altos High girls volleyball team’s unexpected journey to the state championships didn’t end with a win, just getting there was a victory for the program. Los Altos had never made it this far before.
The Eagles won four Northern California playoff matches to reach Saturday’s Division II state final at Santiago Canyon College in Orange, where it took a Village to beat them – Village Christian of Sun Valley. The Crusaders prevailed 25-16, 25-23, 25-20.
“We played as hard as we could,” Los Altos coach Peter Kim said. “We have nothing to hang our heads about. We gave it a shot.”
That’s exactly what senior Kaitlyn Wong, the Eagles’ standout libero, expected from her squad.
“We’re going in with nothing to lose and we’re going to give it our all,” she said after Los Altos’ four-set win over Cosumnes Oaks in the NorCal final Nov. 13. “We’re going to leave it all on the court.”
The Eagles (33-9 overall) jumped to a 6-0 lead in the second set and held a 12-6 advantage in the third, only to see Village Christian (40-9) rally for wins.
“They’re a solid team all around with a lot of weapons,” Kim said of the Crusaders, who also made the state final in 2015. “They don’t let you play the way you want to play, and we made some errors and didn’t play as clean as we would have liked.”
The Eagles never stopped competing, however. Los Altos made Village Christian work for match point, twice digging kill attempts before setter Kendall Jensen faked a pass and dumped the ball over the net, where it landed between two Eagles.
“That caught us off guard, because she hadn’t done that all match,” Kim said. “But we played tough defense (on that rally) – we definitely weren’t going to hand it over.”
Junior Katie Kishton tallied nine kills to lead Los Altos; only Crusader Payton Hudspeth made more in the match (14). Sophomore Naomie Cremoux notched five kills for the Eagles and served two aces.
Cremoux recorded a team-high 15 kills in the regional final, in which second-seeded Los Altos took down No. 5 Cosumnes Oaks 25-20, 21-25, 25-23, 25-19.
That match seemed to epitomize the Eagles’ season. Undersized against a team filled with 6-footers, host Los Altos overwhelmed the Wolfpack (27-12) with tenacity, skill and strategy.
“When they were big in the back row and their smaller players came up, we needed to make sure we made runs,” Kim said. “We avoided setting balls where the big players were and made other people make plays.”
The Eagles showed their grit from the first set. Up 18-15, Los Altos scored back-to-back points on long rallies to pull away. Wong came up with two digs during the second rally – racing toward the back row to bump the ball backward and later diving to the floor to save another shot – before Cremoux crushed the kill.
“We’re not going to give up,” said Wong, who totaled a team-best 19 digs, “and we’re always trusting each other to give our all for every ball.”
After dropping the second set and falling behind 23-22 in the third, Los Altos battled back. Cremoux’s kill tied the game, and after Cosumnes Oaks was called for an illegal touch, the Eagles won on a kill from Jackie Wang.
“That’s what we’ve been all year – a hard-nosed team,” Kim said. “We have some talent, but we don’t have some (NCAA) D1 6-foot-4-type talent. But they all play hard and we do the right things most of the time. That’s all we try to do – the best we can.”
The Eagles carried that momentum into the fourth set. They served five aces, with the last one coming from Camille Blanc on match point.
“We serve tough,” Kim said.
Los Altos won all four of its NorCal matches in four sets or fewer. The Eagles didn’t imagine they would be this good when the season began.
“Never,” said Wong, bound for Brown University. “But we like proving people wrong. We’ve faced a lot of adversity this season – we’ve had some injuries and a lot of switching around positions – and that’s helped us play for each other and fight harder together.”
Kim noted that Los Altos’ 10-match winning streak midway through the season – which included a sweep of league champ Palo Alto – boosted the team’s confidence.
“That showed us, ‘OK, we’re getting better and we can play with these really good teams – and we are a really good team,’” he said.
Along with Wong, Wang and Blanc, the Eagles will lose Lauren Wang, Tori Hausch and Corinne McCabe to graduation. From senior to sophomore, no player on this team is likely to forget this historic season.
“It was unexpected, but it was really nice,” Kim said. “The school, the kids and everyone involved will remember this for the rest of their lives.”