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Volleyball recap: Vikings fall to Homestead, 3-0, in CCS semifinals

Senior Shelby Knowles celebrates a point with junior Becca Raffel in the third set of Paly’s season-ending loss in the semifinals of the CCS playoffs Wednesday night. Photo by Matt Ersted.

Playing the co-champion of the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League De Anza Division four times in the same season is tough enough. Winning all four contests? A tall order, no matter what the team has accomplished.

The Palo Alto High School volleyball team (28-7, 12-2) could not deliver a fourth win over Homestead High School (23-8, 12-2) tonight in Santa Clara, losing in three sets and ending its hopes of a third straight Central Coast Section and California State Championship.

The Vikings were flat for most of the match against a Mustang team determined to beat Paly for the first time this season.

“Homestead brought their best plays, brought their best players and made some great adjustments,” Paly Coach Dave Winn said. “They played phenomenally well.”

Senior captain and setter Sophia Bono echoed Winn’s sentiments.

“They [Homestead] were prepared,” Bono said. “They fought really hard. After us beating them three times, I think they really did want it badly.”

Paly’s passing was not up to snuff, as the Vikings could not get into their offensive routine on a consistent basis.

“I think they were doing a good job putting the ball in play,” said senior captain and outside hitter Shelby Knowles. “They were serving really tough at us, and we obviously had a weakness tonight of passing.”

Homestead got off to a quick lead in the first set and never looked back due to its strong serving and hitting, especially by star senior outside hitter Emily Reed. The Mustangs had six aces while the Vikings had trouble on serve receive. Paly would claw its way back multiple times on the strength of Knowles’ seven kills, but Homestead stood tall and won by a 25-20 count.

Game two was neck-in-neck the whole way, as both teams traded points and short runs.  Sophomore outside hitter Jade Schoenberger converted three consecutive aces and junior middle blocker Lauren Kerr had two kills and an emphatic block. But, two rotation errors when Paly players were out of position cost the Vikings dearly. Homestead appeared to be in control, as it led 21-17. Paly came back to force a game point at 24-23 and another at 25-24. In the end, two critical Viking errors led to a Homestead win, 27-25.

It was Palo Alto that jumped out early in the third set, extending a 10-3 lead. The Mustangs came back to tie the game at 11 points apiece. Junior outside hitter Becca Raffel contributed six kills in the set. The teams traded points from there until Homestead pulled away late, ultimately ending the set and match on a 22-7 run.

“We couldn’t take advantage of momentum,” Winn said. “We let points scored by our opponent affect us more than they normally do, and when that happens the psyche of a team changes. We just couldn’t keep our confidence, couldn’t keep our composure. Sometimes the other team beats you, and tonight we got beat.”

Homestead assistant coach Greg Lara, who held the same position at Paly during its back-to-back state championships the last two years, felt his team implemented its plan better this time around.

“It was more of just about executing on what we could to get them out of system and serve-receive,” Lara said. “And to defensively take away the places where they wanted to score. We just had to be really efficient on siding out and really flat with our emotions.”

Winn felt that the Mustangs’ were successful tonight because of their adjustments from previous meetings.

“They played us three times this season and that was the best they played us,” Winn said. “I expected them to bring their best and they did. All of their girls brought a little something extra. It pushed us past where we could perform.”

Lara was impressed at Paly’s resilience this season after losing so much of its successful team last year.

“It’s really good to see that that program [Palo Alto] keeps pumping even after graduating eight seniors,” Lara said. “It’s just a testament to how well they’re trained and how hard they work at practice every day.”

The Vikings tied with the Mustangs atop the SCVAL, each holding a 12-2 league mark. Palo Alto beat Homestead in both league contests, but also played and beat it in a tournament match that did not count toward either team’s league record.

Homestead advances to the CCS Finals versus Menlo-Atherton High School at 7 p.m. Saturday at Independence High School in San Jose.  No matter the outcome of that contest, the Mustangs will advance to the Northern California playoffs beginning next week.

Meanwhile, the season ends for the Vikings, allowing Coach Winn to reflect.

“We overachieved in so many ways,” Winn said. “If someone told me that we’d be playing in the CCS semis and having that record I would have taken it in a heartbeat.”

Knowles likewise reflected on her season and career after her last high school game.

“I don’t have any regrets about how I played,” Knowles said. “This has obviously been the dream four high school years. Two state championships that I got to be a part of. It couldn’t have been better.”

Palo Alto will lose Both Knowles and Bono to graduation, but will return the rest of its varsity roster. The Paly junior varsity team also had a strong season, making Winn optimistic about the future for Paly volleyball.

“We had a lot of people able to step in and play hard as underclassmen,” he said. “Our JV went undefeated in league. We have a tremendous amount of potential. Paly’s going to be strong for a long time.”

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