Nathan Mollat/Daily Journal
Nathan Mollat/Daily Journal
Menlo-Atherton's Pauli King, left, finished with 19 kills as the Bears beat Burlingame in four sets in the PAL opener for both teams Tuesday.
What was billed as a clash of Bay Division titans turned into a runaway win, as Menlo-Atherton powered past Burlingame 25-20, 23-25, 25-15, 25-16 in yesterday’s Peninsula Athletic League girls’ volleyball opener.
Menlo-Atherton (1-0 PAL Bay, 7-3 overall) gained momentum around Pauli King, as the 6-foot senior fired a match-high 19 kills, including seven kills in the decisive fourth game.
With the score teetering in the balance of Game 4, Burlingame (0-1, 8-5) took a brief 11-10 lead. But that’s when King seized control, reeling off three straight kills to give M-A a lead from which it would not look back.
“After that third game we just built momentum and began to gel as a team,” King said.
For King, building momentum is the name of the game. The fourth-year varsity starter is coming off back-to-back first team All-League nods. However, soon after M-A captured the Central Coast Section Division I crown last year, King went under the knife to repair a torn labrum in her hitting shoulder. She didn’t resume volleyball activities until three weeks prior to the start of this season.
“She can’t really swing at practice … so, she comes into (a match) here and it takes her a game or two to get the momentum going,” Menlo-Atherton head coach Ron Whitmill said. “But she got a couple good swings and carried us into Game 4.”
Whitmill said he hopes King will be up to speed by midseason. And if all goes according to plan, the Bears will certainly get stronger as the season progresses. As strong as they are now, they have yet to activate junior Devin Joos – a transfer from St. Francis – who should debut Oct. 8 against Carlmont, according to Whitmill.
King is emerging as the clear-cut team leader though. And as she demonstrated at Burlingame yesterday, once she finds her groove, the team will follow. Through the first two games, Burlingame dominated at net behind the consistent play of seniors Morgan McKeever and Dana Williams.
However, M-A still took Game 1 behind the strength of junior Ally Ostrow and a strong finish by junior Eliza Gutierrez-Dewar. Once King showed up in Game 3, however, the lithe and lethal outside hitter quickly picked apart the Burlingame defense.
Menlo-Atherton never trailed in Game 3, and finished strong behind a six-point service run by senior Virginia Lane to help the Bears to match point. With the game hanging in the balance at 24-15, Burlingame fended off a barrage of kill attempts by King to force a sideout. But on the following rally, King prevailed with an easy hook shot to give Menlo-Atherton a Game 3 win, and a 2-1 advantage in the match.
“[King] carries the brunt of our load offensively,” Whitmill said. “I think the girls kind of look to her as a leader.”
Burlingame’s strongest showing was in Game 2, though the Panthers were already exuding signs of frustration. After M-A jumped out to an early 8-4 lead, McKeever hammered home one of her 14 kills, but still walked away from the net looking noticeably perturbed.
“That’s my competitive edge,” McKeever said. “I just get into it. It’s just because when we get down, I think we should be beating certain teams…. But [M-A is] a really good team.”
According to Burlingame head coach Nilo Mauricio, the Panthers were lacking energy.
“The lack of energy at our home court was just not acceptable,” Mauricio said. “Lack of sense of urgency. It just seemed we were here physically, not mentally.”
Both teams are expected to make a run at the Bay Division title this season though, just as they did last year with Menlo-Atherton capturing the division title by going undefeated in league, and Burlingame finishing in second place with its only two division loses coming at the hands of M-A.
“[Burlingame is] a good team,” Whitmill said. “We were definitely coming into this match knowing we were going to have our hands full.”