Menlo's Morgan Dressel finished with 11 kills in the Knights' season-opening win over M-A.
The Menlo School and Menlo-Atherton girls’ volleyball teams both expect to challenge for league and Central Coast Section titles this season.
Thursday, the two teams decided to do away with an pretense or warmup matches and went head-to-head to open the season. With both student cheering sections in midseason form, Menlo pulled out a tough 25-20, 24-21, 15-25, 24-14 win over the Bears.
“We’re going to play a lot of talented teams this year,” said Steve Cavella, Menlo’s first-year coach who spent the previous seven seasons at Crystal Springs Uplands School.
“I think we played well at times (Thursday), but a little inconsistent.”
Menlo-Atherton coach Ron Whitmill will also face a lot of high-caliber squads this season. As defending CCS Division I champs, the Bears have a target on their backs and will get the best from every team they play.
“It’s not going to be easy for us,” Whitmill said. “We want to win another CCS title. Even though we lost, these losses are worth it.”
Menlo-Atherton returns first-team All-Bay Division outside hitter Pauli King who had a solid showing against Menlo, but it was Ally Ostrow and Leanna Collins who led the way for the Bears, finishing with 14 and 13 kills, respectively.
M-A also got good debuts from a pair of freshmen — starting setter Kirby Knapp and defensive specialist Kianna Sales.
“I was happy with the way the two freshmen played,” Whitmill said. “That was a big question mark. Could they step in and play at the next level? The good thing is, we found out the answer — they can.”
The Bears did a good job of distributing the ball, as seven different players had a kill.
Menlo is just as deep and with eight seniors on the team, the time is now for the Knights to go for gold. Senior middle blocker Morgan Dressel had a bige match, finishing with 11 kills. Senior outside hitter Maddie Huber added 13 and senior hitter Lida Vandermeer finished with nine kills.
The Knights faced some adversity when senior middle blocker Sarah Bruml went down with a knee injury late in Game 2 and it seemed to affect the flow of the Menlo offense in Game 3, when M-A pushed right past the Knights for their only set win of the night.
“Losing Sarah was a big turning point,” Cavella said. “Losing her was a big blow. She was playing well.
“We got a little flat in the third game.’
The benefit of the injury, however, allowed Cavella to see how his team would respond and other than the hiccup in Game 3, the Knights handled the situation.
“I felt the team responded really well,” Cavella said. “It was good to see other players step up.”
Neither team threatened to run away from the other in the first two games, which were marked by long scoring runs for both teams. In Game 1, Menlo reeled off eight straight points, getting three aces from Huber in the process, to take a 14-5 lead.
M-A rallied, however, eventually closing to 17-14 following a kill from Ostrow, but the Knights stayed tough down the stretch in recording the win.
The Knights spurted out to a 13-9 lead in Game 2 before M-A came roaring back again. The Bears scored seven of the next eight points to take a 16-15 lead, but once again, Menlo stayed strong. A block for a kill from Dressel tied the score at 16 and a pair of M-A hitting errors gave the Knights the lead for good as they went on to clinch a 25-21 win.
Menlo seemed lost in Game 3 without Bruml and M-A took advantage. Menlo leading 5-4, the Bears took off on a 6-0 run and won eight of the next nine points for a 12-6 advantage.
Menlo steadied itself with a 4-0 run to get to 13-10, the Bears put the game away by winning nine of the next 11 points for a 21-12 advantage and went on to a 25-15 win.
The Knights turned the tables in Game 4, however, and we never really threatened in a 25-14.
“Even though we didn’t win, [Menlo’s] level of play forced us to pick up our game,” Whitmill said.