Volleyball comeback leads to victory against Gunn

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In their first game after the incident at the rival football gamePalo Alto High School’s girls’ varsity volleyball team (2-1) came back to beat the Henry M. Gunn High School Titans (0-3), 3-2, Friday night at Paly after being down by two sets.

In light of the recent chaos at the Paly-versus-Gunn varsity football match on Sept. 9, Paly Assistant Principal LaDonna Butler gave an opening speech highlighting the importance of sportsmanship. 

“Sportsmanship is defined as any person who can manage a loss or defeat without complaints or victory with honor without gloating,” Butler said. “As members of the Palo Alto High School Athletic program, students and parents are expected to demonstrate respect for each other’s opponents, opposing coaches, teachers, officials, and community.”

The decades-long crosstown rivalry between the Vikings and the Titans is fierce, and this game was no exception, with Paly and Gunn students and parents filling the stands to cheer on their teams as the game began.

Crader attributes the win to his team’s change in strategy after the second set.

“I think that Gunn played amazing defense in the first two sets,” Crader said. “But I think we were able to change up our hitting just enough to make it harder for them to play that level of defense… and we just were a little bit cleaner in terms of unforced errors.”

In the first set, Gunn took an early lead by capitalizing on defensive ability, allowing the Titans to win the first set with a score of 17-25, making the set score 0-1. The Vikings struggled to score against the strong front and back row defense of the Titans, who blocked Paly from scoring.

During the second set, Paly started off with an early lead of 8-1, with outside hitter Kylie Yen scoring three of the eight with impressive kills. However, Gunn then turned the set around, scoring point after point to bring the set back to 12-10 thanks to the efforts of their own outside hitter, Celine Safa, taking a comfortable match lead at 0-2.

After a series of back-and-forth struggles for kills bringing the score to 24-24, the set was ended by a well-placed spike by Titan outside hitter senior Silvia Arjona, securing the set for Gunn 24-26 and bringing the total score to 0-2.

The beginning of the third set started out close, with the Vikings and Titans both successful thanks to the continued offensive strength of Yen and Safa. These kills brought both sides to a neck-and-neck entering the middle of the set, where the two teams were locked at 8-8.

Nevertheless, the Vikings began to pull ahead thanks to a stronger defense orchestrated by senior libero Jess Watanabe and the continued efforts of Yen as well as senior outside hitter Evie Kramer. They pulled ahead to 15-9, and the Titans found themselves unable to respond. Viking freshman outside hitter Mina Lee Hwong eventually won the set 25-13, pulling the Vikings back into the game at 1-2 and igniting cheers in the crowd as well as a potential comeback.

The Vikings continued their strong comeback performance in the fourth set, although the Titans put up more of a fight. Paly continually scored, and although Gunn tried to catch up, they were hampered by continual serving errors and another strong offensive performance from the Vikings. The Vikings finished the set strongly with two kills from Yen and were able to level up the game, going into the last set with the momentum on their side.

However, in the fifth set, Gunn regained their footing and gave themselves a small lead over the Vikings, 7-3. The scores were tight as the set continued, at 12-12, with the atmosphere becoming tenser. The Vikings persisted and were determined to complete the comeback, and pulled ahead of the Titans towards the end of the set. A hit down the middle of the court by Viking senior middle hitter Annika Chapin ended the set at the score 15-13, giving Paly the win.  

Watanabe accredits the victory to the strong optimist mentality of the team.

“We’re trying as hard as we could, and always putting in the effort, no matter where the ball ended up,” Watanabe said. “And I feel like that played a really big part in us coming back. But also we had a really strong mentality. We didn’t let this deficit get to our heads. And so we just played our best, our best volleyball and we ended up winning.”

According to Gunn senior libero Alina Li, both teams enjoyed a match with sportsmanship, despite the rivalry between the two schools.

“All the players and the spectators were very respectful,” Li said. “Coming into the game, we just wanted to have a lot of fun because rivalries are pretty enjoyable.”

Paly varsity volleyball head coach Chris Crader also emphasized the importance of respect for both the athletes and the fans.

“If you’re going to a sporting event, it’s about going there to honor the people who are playing, not about you doing whatever you’re doing in the stands,” Crader said. “They [athletes] are working so hard two hours a day, five to six days a week, year after year. If you want to go there and support them, that’s fantastic, but when it becomes something else, that’s not cool.”

The Vikings will face the Mountain View Spartans (1-1) at 6:45 p.m. on Tuesday at Mountain View High School.