Daily Journal Sports File
Menlo-Atherton’s Pauli King has battled through shoulder problems to help the Bears become one of the best teams in CCS.
Someday, Menlo-Atherton will look back on the current era of girls’ volleyball as the greatest in school history. When that day comes, fans should appreciate that such an era probably wouldn’t have come to pass if not for the perseverance of Pauli King.
Last season, after advancing to the Central Coast Section finals for the third time in four years, the Bears captured the CCS crown for the first time in program history. Had King’s doctors had their way, however, the perennial All-League hitter would have missed the playoffs with a shoulder injury.
Late in the summer of 2012, after soldiering through club season with nagging shoulder inflammation, King received a cortisone shot to prepare for her junior season. Midway through Menlo-Atherton’s march toward history, it was discovered King had a torn labrum of the hitting shoulder which would require surgery.
Most kids would hang ‘em up at that point. But even with her doctors urging her to do so, King would have none of that.
“It was a lot of muscling through pain,” King said. “So, personally it was really hard, but as a team it was such an incredible year. We won CCS and made school history, so that was a pretty cool year.”
The Bears captured last season’s Division I title by sweeping two-time CCS champion Homestead in the finals. The historic win came just two days prior to King’s 16th birthday. Now she is hoping to celebrate her 17th birthday with a command performance, as No.1-seed Menlo-Atherton hosts No. 9-seed Cupertino in the CCS opener Saturday at 10 a.m.
It has been a long road back for King, who finally went under the knife following her junior season. The surgery was followed by six months of grueling rehab. She missed her entire club season, but was cleared to play her final season at Menlo-Atherton at the start of the school year.
However, she has played with pain all year, and even missed three games at the midseason mark after reinjuring the shoulder while diving for a ball against Carlmont. With King out of action for three games, the Bears struggled with a 1-2 record in league.
“Obviously without her, we’re not as good of a team,” Menlo-Atherton head coach Ron Whitmill said. “She’s our captain. She’s a senior. She’s one of the most athletic kids in the [Peninsula Athletic League]. So, when she’s not out there, we lose a lot.”
If the volleyball career doesn’t work out, King can always settle on running for president someday. She is committed to play at Princeton next year, and is one of two players on the team, along with senior Virginia Lane, to be named a National Merit Scholar. According to Whitmill, the M-A varsity squad carries a current 4.07 grade point average.
“[King] is a very smart kid,” Whitmill said. “Our whole team is smart. It’s a pretty amazing group of girls.”
King has had the most amazing career of all though. The fourth-year varsity starter recently earned her third consecutive first-team All-League nod. In addition to being one of the best hitters in the league, King can pass, defend, and block with the best of them.
As a team, Menlo-Atherton was already moving in the right direction when King arrived in 2010. The previous season, anchored by King’s older sister Sofi, the Bears advanced to their first ever CCS final before falling to Salinas. Little did King realize that the best was yet to come.
“My freshman year, we had some absolutely incredible seniors on the court … so, I think we all were a little bit nervous for them to graduate,” King said. “I think we knew we had some pretty good talent coming up. I don’t know if the expectation was for us to end up where we have ended up.”
Even with the departure of King next season, M-A still figures to be a contender. The Bears added a spectacular junior hitter this season with Devin Joos transferring from St. Francis. After sitting out the first half of the season as per transfer guidelines, Joos— realistically a first-team caliber talent—still earned a second-team All-League nod. Sophomore Leanna Collins also earned second-team All-League honors, while junior Ali Ostrow and freshman Kirby Knapp garnered honorable mentions.
Before King graduates though, she is intent on returning to full health so she can reestablish herself on the club circuit. Despite missing last season, she will earn a promotion to the prestigious Vision 18 Gold team to play alongside Woodside senior Christine Alftin.
“Normally the only time I’ll stop for an injury is something that, long term, can have a negative impact on my future as a volleyball player,” King said. “But this one, it’s just something that the inflammation will increase, and while that’s pretty painful, it’s not something that can damage me long term.”
While her surgically-repaired shoulder isn’t in nearly as bad of shape as last season, King is once again soldiering through the pain. Call it stick-to-itiveness, stubbornness, or just good old-fashioned competitiveness, one thing is for sure. Despite her doctor’s recommendation she err on the side of caution, King is committed to seeing this season through.
“[My doctor] recommended I stop playing now and take off a month, maybe two months, and just really calm down all that inflammation,” King said. “But I’m not going to stop now.”