Girls’ volleyball beats Menlo Atherton in first home game

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Jonathan Chen

Freshman Sophie Pan gets ready to spike the ball in the Vikings first home game against the Menlo Atherton Bears last Thursday night. The Vikings swept Menlo Atherton, 3-0, in a one-sided game. Head coach Chris Crader said the impact of the team’s cohesiveness during the match will help set them up for a successful season. “We have fantastic leadership, and I think that chemistry and team dynamics are going to be a strength for us,” Crader said. (Photo: Jonathan Chen)

Avi Srinivasan and Jonathan Chen

Editor’s note: a previous version of this story incorrectly listed Paly head coach Chris Crader as Chris Cradle. This has since been updated.

In a dominating performance, the Palo Alto High School varsity girl’s volleyball team crushed the Menlo-Atherton Bears, 3-0, during its first home game of the season last Thursday night.

After nearly two years since the team experienced a full season of volleyball, excitement and tension were high among the players and fans who came together to watch the Vikings’ first game of the year.

According to Viking senior and outside hitter Thea Enache, the presence of fans was a welcome addition to the overall energy of the game — one that hadn’t been seen for quite a while.

“We love it when people show up and get rowdy — I missed that,” Enache said. “It was awesome to have an audience finally.”

The Vikings started the first set strong, quickly finding their rhythm and cruising through various kills and blocks on the offense. Initially, the Bears paralleled the Vikings in terms of points. However, due to a cluster of serving and hitting errors by the Bears midway through the set, the Vikings quickly gained a lead. A kill by Enache established the largest lead of the set, putting the Vikings at 21-13 towards the end. 

From there, the Vikings slightly struggled to keep their lead with missed dives and unresponsive hits, but they eventually pulled off the victory after a final kill from senior outside hitter Alex Franklin — ending the set, 25-18.

Junior libero Jess Watanabe said the vast lead given up was an indication of the team’s initial inexperience so far this season.

“I feel like we started getting tired and we haven’t played this long of a match in a while or this intense,” Watanabe said. “So there was definitely a lot of energy that was burnt out very early in the game. But we had a talk with our coach, and he helped motivate us to get our motivation back, and then we started playing much better and playing at our level again.”

In the second set, the Vikings continued to demonstrate their tenacity both offensively and defensively. Outside hitters Enache and senior Amelia Vugrincic controlled the intensity of the game throughout various defining key moments. When the score had been tied, 8-8, during the middle of the second set, Enache scored an outstanding kill to regain the lead and gain momentum. The Vikings later won the set, 25-21.

Enache said the influence and usage of the timeouts helped the team come back in the second set.

“We called a timeout just to work out our seams, and then we figured it out and got a pass — and then we got a really good kill,” Enache said. “Then we took that momentum and finished the set. So I’m glad that in this game, every time we fell into a hole, we were able to fix it.”

In the final set, senior blocker Olivia Harrison found her stride, carrying most of the team’s points through her unforgiving blocks and kills. Watanabe maintained her success as libero, facilitating multiple points through strong dives and counteracting the Bears’ pressure. The team got into their groove most vibrantly in the third set, which ended 25-15.

Harrison said that although the Viking’s performance was exceptional in gaining points, serving and other errors contributed to a slight lack of consistency in their playing style.

“We’ve been working a lot on our serving in practice,” Harrison said. “I think that’s something that we can continue to do, myself included, because it was kind of sad this game — a lot of their [the Bears’] points were our unforced errors.”

Paly head coach Chris Crader shared Harrison’s sentiments, explaining how the team needs to keep crafting their athletic showing in order to build off this game.

“I think we’re improving our serving, but we just got to tighten [it] up still a little bit more,” Crader said. “But it was cool, four first-time varsity players [are] all gonna come in and make a couple plays. So it’s good, it’s a good place and a good starting point. So hopefully, we grow from here.”

The Vikings were to play Tuesday at 6:45 p.m. against Archbishop Mitty at home.