Girls Team of the Year: Basketball


Photo courtesy of Karen Hickey

After an 18 game winning streak and first place De Anza League finish, the girls varsity basketball team broke Paly history as the first girls basketball team to both compete and win in the CCS Open division playoffs. With a healthy combination of senior leadership and skilled underclassmen, the team flourished and in turn dismantled almost all competition.

The dynamic of the team is truly unique. It isn’t led by a small group of captains, rather everyone on the team is of equal importance, contrary to what is typical in most other Paly sports. A team led by a committee can have its perks. No one is ever seen as above another, regardless of seniority, and instead everyone is equal. Selfless play stems out from this approach with no one player above another.

“When one of us slacked off, the others were there to help them get back on their feet and finish up the game,” Nadia Brown (‘24) said.

In the game of basketball, team chemistry is imperative to the group’s success. With strong chemistry, a squad is able to dictate the pace of the game and outplay their opponents. For most teams, including those in professional leagues, building chemistry can be a real challenge, especially if there are members that have never played with each other before. Despite graduating people, and having players come and go, the team was able to build a team culture centered around each other’s strengths and system that led to great success.

“Our team chemistry allowed for a fun season that improved how we played with each other on the court and knowing that everyone on the team had each other’s back,” Kaella Peters (‘23) said.

This positive dynamic was especially apparent anytime a teammate went to the free throw line. The girls sat on the bench at the time of the throw, would put one leg over the other, and then switch legs once a free throw went through the net. This tradition has been passed on for years, fortifying the strong connections made between teammates at Paly.

“Crossing our legs on top of one another was our way of giving good luck. We all know exactly when to do it, and when to switch to the other,” McKenna Rausch (‘23) said.

The team came through this season, pulling off victory after victory, including a statement win against an intimidating Los Gatos squad. This Los Gatos win was a defining moment for this group, as it proved what everyone at Paly had known for a long time: that they were one of the best in the area. Freshman Vienn Sheng finished the game with six three-pointers in an overtime thriller.

“Our entire team was just so happy, jumping up and down. [It was] by far the best game and experience of the season,” Rausch said.

This riveting win added to an incredible 11-1 record in league play. Paly finished one game ahead of Los Gatos in league standings to end the season at top of the De Anza division. This outstanding league record was not the best feat during the season, however. The team boasted an 18 game win streak during the heart of their season, including hard fought wins against Homestead and Aptos. Their incredible record and finish in league played allowed them to qualify for the CCS Open Division.

Paly was one of two public schools in the Open playoff division, the highest possible division. This season was the first time ever that Paly girls basketball won a game in the Open division playoffs. This win came against Sacred Heart Cathedral, a Catholic school in San Francisco. Paly faced a 10-point deficit at halftime, but rallied to win the game, 47-43.

“This team was the absolute best this season and I can’t wait to see what we bring next,” Brown said.

Honorable Mention: Golf

One Paly team we can’t forget to include is our girls golf team. The team’s dominance carried over from winning states in 2019 to a second-place finish in California this year. A star-studded roster headlined by Bridget O’Keefe, and sisters Lauren and Sydney Sung, was utterly dominant during the 2021 campaign. O’Keefe, committed to play golf at the University of Pennsylvania, finished as a medalist in states play, adding to her already impressive resumé as a captain of the girls golf team. Alongside O’Keefe, the Sung twins, both committed to play at the University of Michigan, had another incredible season. Coached by Doyle Knight, this group of girls lived up to the high expectations that were set for them.

While golf may seem like an individual sport, the golf team attributes much of its success to their connection as a team. The team was led by seniors who served as role models to the underclassmen, which strengthened the bond between teammates, and in part will continue this connection for years to come.

“Our entire team gets along really well which makes playing golf fun,” Sydney Sung (‘22) said. “Even when you are not having your best day on the course, you know that you’re in for a great time no matter what.”