Female Team of 2011: Girls’ Volleyball

Gracie Marshall, Managing Editor

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It’s been five months since the Palo Alto High School Volleyball team made history. The moment that Maddie Kuppe’s (’12) game winning ace captured the CIF State Championship title over favorite Long Beach Poly has been replayed in the minds of players and spectators alike. The team has soaked it in, relishing in the glory and comprehending the extreme difficulty of the accomplished task: a state championship season. Head Coach Dave Winn sighed deeply as he reflected on the season, five months later. The phone line went silent for a few long moments. Finally, Winn spoke again.

“We’re 41-1,” he said. “The more time passes by, the more you start to realize ‘Wow, that’s really amazing.’ ”

Five months after the emotional rush has faded, the accomplishment remains: 41 wins. One loss. One CCS championship. One Northern California championship, and one California Interscholastic Federation Division One State Championship. After moving up from Division II at the beginning of the school year, Paly was able to distance itself from private school powerhouses Archbishop Mitty and Saint Francis, proving by their performance on the court that the Vikings were truly a force to be reckoned with. The statistics speak for themselves: outside hitters Kuppe, and Trina Ohms (’11) finished the season with 227 and 380 attack kills respectively. Opposite Caroline Martin (’12) added 167 kills on the season, while middle blocker Melanie Wade (’12) supplied 537. Setter Kimmy Whitson, who earned the Pursuing Victory with Honor sportsmanship award for the state tournament, contributed 1,148 assists, while libero Megan Coleman (’11)  had 543 digs. Maxpreps.com,  a popular sports statistic website for high school athletics, has ranked the Paly team eighth in the nation and second in the state. And it all started in Reno, Nevada. After going 9-0 at the tournament, not only was his team victorious, but it also took the opportunity to establish its dominance as a precedent. At that point, Winn became fully aware of his team’s enormous potential.

” ‘Clearly girls, we’ve got to think about four banners this year,” Winn recalls telling his players. “We can’t be satisfied with just making it to the CCS finals again this year, we have to set our standards high.”

 

After going 9-0 in the Reno Tournament, the standard was set, and the wins continued. Paly improved to 26-0 overall, continuing its customary winning streak. The Lady Vikes were on a roll — until a wildcat got in their way. After a five game struggle, Paly fell to league rival Los Gatos 3-2 in an uncustomary at-home loss. Paly had beaten the Wildcats just a few weeks before on the road, and the team was devastated. Winn, who in his five years at Paly has lost only three home games, remembers his frustrated players taking the loss bitterly.

“The girls took it really hard, and I was glad they did,” Winn said. “I remember sitting out in the hallway next to the main gym and nobody wanted to leave. Everyone was just looking at each other going ‘that’s enough. That’s not us, that’s not what we want to have happen ever again.'”

 

Though their win streak was broken, the players were far from their breaking point: it only fueled Paly’s motivation to further prove themselves as queens of the court. This loss, according to a reflective Winn, was the moment when the attitude of his team shifted from victors to fighters.

“I think back to that loss we had against Los Gatos and how much resolve the team had to say to themselves ‘thats the last loss were going to have this season,” Winn said. “I didn’t have to say very much: from that moment forward, we knew we were in really good shape [to accomplish our goals].”

All through CCS and Norcals, the Vikings would play with this mentality: never once did they loosen their grip on the ending goal: a state championship. The odds loomed large against Paly: Long Beach Poly, at the time, was the number one team in the nation. The Lady Vikes, however, tuned out this fact entirely, using it instead to fuel their fire to play the game of a lifetime.

. “We went in as underdogs so that really tested our abilities to push through the difficult situations and say ‘hey we’re as good as anyone else out there,'” Captain Trina Ohms (’11) said.

In a seemingly unbelievable turn of events in game five, Palo Alto emerged victorious from arguably one of the most intense indoor sporting matches ever witnessed by the Palo Alto community. The adrenaline ran high on both sides as each spectator absorbed every second of the action, up until the final moment when Kuppe’s ace touched the court. Flashes of the entire journey, five months since August, flashed through the minds of each player as it culminated in the ultimate moment of crowning glory. Though certain moments within that match will without question stay fresh in the minds of the Paly team for years to come, Winn, looking back on the season as a whole, is more focused on the emotional ride than specifics.

“When you just finish a match, you know exactly how every point was scored [and] then that starts to fade and you get the perspective of the whole season and what it took just to get to that final game,” Winn said. “It’s something a lot of teams don’t get the chance to do and we did it.”

Looking into next season Paly will have new challenges to face. But for now, Palo Alto Volleyball can look back, reminiscing and re-living the long journey that brought it to the top. In the grand scheme of things, kills and digs fade in importance. Instead, they are replaced by the memory of each game the team fought through, each of its victories and defeats that brought Paly Volleyball one step closer to the fairytale of a state championship. Up until the last moment of play, the atmosphere was competitive, and Paly’s drive to succeed shone through. Because in the end, the Lady Vikes don’t play just to win: they play with a passion for the game, each other, and the green and white tradition. To both the players and Winn, this is what stands out most, five months later.

 

 

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