Volleyball fights to conquer Gunn Titans

Sherwin Amsbaugh and Emma van der Veen

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Senior middle blocker Claire Dennis tips the ball over the net. According to head coach Jekara Wilson, Dennis played outstandingly on Thursday against Paly's cross-town rivals, the Gunn Titans.

Senior middle blocker Claire Dennis tips the ball over the net. According to head coach Jekara Wilson, Dennis played outstandingly on Thursday against Paly’s cross-town rivals, Gunn High School. Photo by Sherwin Amsbaugh.

The Palo Alto High School volleyball team (167, 4-1) earned its fourth De Anza League victory over Gunn High School (10-9, 1-4) on Thursday at Gunn in a home game for Paly, with an end score of 3-2.

The Vikings won the first, fourth, and fifth sets, while Gunn won the second and third, as both teams’ energy fluctuated all throughout the night.

“We went on some streaks, but they went on some serving streaks as well, so it was a pretty even match,” junior outside hitter Fiona Green said.

With offensive leadership from junior setter Jessica Lee and senior middle blocker Claire Dennis, the Vikings played outstandingly, according to head coach Jekara Wilson.

“It was a really exciting match,” Wilson said. “It’s always exciting to play your cross-town rivals.”

Gunn head coach Craig Benkowski also showed his enthusiasm for the competitive drives behind each team, but also recognized the Vikings’ ability to finish the game and take home the win.

“Both teams were up and down, and that’s the beauty when you go to five games, but their best players stepped up and they earned that win,” Benkowski said. “They totally earned it, and it was a great match by both sides.”

According to Wilson, the team’s work in practice is paying off during games.

“Our passing was a lot better tonight,” Wilson said. “We worked a lot on it at practice yesterday. We also did a good job mixing up our shots, either hitting the ball or tipping the ball.”

According to Wilson, it was junior libero Cassie Fong’s first time playing in that position, who usually plays as a setter, a new dynamic for the team. Fan also praised Fong’s performance.

“Cassie really stepped up and played libero really well,” Fan said. “She’s never played there before.”

With huge turnouts in the student sections for both schools, the crowd noise and “seventh-man” in the gym affected play during the game, according to junior right side hitter Katie Passarello.

“I thought we kind of got a little spooked by Gunn’s super loud crowd during the second and third games, but we were able to come back and calm ourselves down,” Passarello said. “We did a really good job in controlling our emotions at the end.”

Looking forward, Paly will be focusing on its fundamentals as well as the team aspects of the game, according to Green.

“We definitely need to work on serve-receive because we missed a lot of balls,” Green said. “Also, just communication on the court and working together.”

The Vikings’ next game is set for 6:45 p.m. on Oct. 13, an away game against the Los Gatos Wildcats (11-7, 3-2).

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