Volleyball recap: Vikings sweep Castilleja in season opener

Liana Pickrell and Maddy Jones

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Becca Raffel (14) celebrates with her teammates after winning a hard-fought rally against Castilleja. The Vikings swept the Gators in three sets. Photo by Liana Pickrell.

Becca Raffel (#14) celebrates with her teammates after winning a hard-fought rally against Castilleja. The Vikings swept the Gators in three sets. Photo by Liana Pickrell.

Led by senior captains Keri Gee and Becca Raffel, the Palo Alto High School girls volleyball team (1-0) dominated its first match of the season, beating Castilleja School (0-1) in three sets.

After losing two seniors to graduation and four upperclassmen who did not return to the team, the Viking underclassmen were asked to step up and fill a larger role this year. It seems as if they’ve responded well to the pressure.

Their strength could be seen when, during the second set, freshman setter Jessica Lee hit the floor hard to save the ball, allowing her team to play out the point. As they settled into a rally, sophomore middle blocker Claire Dennis tipped it over the net to catch the Gators off guard and win the point.

Momentum switched back and forth from the Gators to the Vikings throughout the first two sets, although the Vikings came out on top for both, winning 25-21 and 26-24.

The Vikings came out a little shaky, getting down to a 1-6 deficit in the opening set, but after a timeout called by head coach Dave Winn they were able to regroup and come back to win.

As momentum shifted back and forth in the second set, Raffel and Dennis put up a strong block. The Gators responded and shot it back, finding a whole in the Vikings’ defense, turning the score to 20-22 in the Gators’ favor.

Testing both Paly’s and Castilleja’s endurance, the teams had lengthy rallies until the scoreboard read 22-24 in favor of the Gators.

Serving under pressure, Gee pulled through for her team with her tough serving. An ace by Gee ended the set at 26-24.

The Vikings found their rhythm in the third set, beating the Gators 25-14.

Winn saw the comeback as a valuable learning experience for the team, he said.

“It is key for them to learn early that we can be down and still win,” he said.

Assistant coach John Milkovich praised Gee’s serving in service to the comeback.

“Keri came in and proved how valuable she is taking over those last few points, and that really made the third game as easy as it was,” Milkovich said.

According to Winn, Castilleja has gotten better since last season and showed resilience against Paly’s strong hitters.

“I think Castilleja played great,” Winn said. “I think they [have] improved over the last year. They showed a lot of resilience.”

Junior outside hitter Jade Schoenberger was proud of her team’s performance.

“For our first match I thought we played really well,” Schoenberger said.

Senior middle blocker Lauren Kerr agreed with Schoenberger.

“Although in the beginning we were a little nervous, we really showed ourselves that this year is going to be a good year,” Kerr said.

This game was exactly what the team needed to prepare for an upcoming tournament this weekend, according to Winn.

The Lady Vikes have their next home game at 6:45 p.m. Sept. 10 in the Big Gym against Presentation High School (1-0).