The 2019 high school volleyball season is upon us.
With Central Coast Section teams officially opening practice Friday, longtime local powerhouse Menlo School hits the court bright and early at 9 a.m. with new head coach Tony Holland at the helm.
Holland, 52, takes over for Marco Paglialunga — who left in the spring to take over the Italian women’s national team — after serving as Paglialunga’s assistant coach for three years. In 2016, both Holland and Paglialunga interviewed for the head coach job. After Paglialunga was hired, he and Holland embarked on a successful working relationship that saw the Lady Knights capture the program’s first state championship in 2016.
“I’ve learned a lot from Marco the last three years,” Holland said. “So, professionally, I’m happy for him. But, personally, I miss my friend.”
Holland served as an assistant coach under two previous head coaches. In his first season at Menlo — running the freshman squad in 2013 — he was promoted to varsity assistant toward the end of the year by former head coach Steve Cavella.
Now, the challenge of the Knights will be rebounding from graduating four starting seniors. A fifth graduate, current Stanford freshman Selina Xu, did not play in 2018 due to injury. The volleyball program was at the opposite side of the spectrum when Paglialunga took over in 2016, which worked in a massive strategic shift that saw Menlo play a faster, European style.
“The style of play is a little different,” Holland said. “Marco really pushed us to be faster. … Steve was more of, ‘I don’t think we can do that,’ and he was mostly right when he said that. … When Marco came in, we had older personnel, and he was like, ‘we’re going faster.’”
The temperament of Paglialunga and Cavella was night and day as well. Whereas
Cavella was more laid back, Paglialunga, as Holland describes it, wore his emotions on his sleeve. Holland said he and Cavella have similar temperaments.
Holland’s patience may be called upon to start the new season. The Knights are coming off back-to-back West Bay Athletic League Foothill Division championships. But the youth movement will be tested in 2019.
Setter Zoe Gregory and outside hitter Roxy Karrer were both in steady rotation last year, and senior Abby Holleran figures to see substantial time at libero. Much will depend on the sophomore quartet of Gregory, Karrer, Sharon Nejad and Simone Adam, a group that impressed at tryouts last year, according to Holland.
“I think we have a ways to go to get there,” Holland said. “But I think we have the pieces in place to do that. This group is young but it’s hungry. … I just know we’re always going to compete.”
One of the biggest culture shocks will be the lack of Houghtons on this year’s Menlo roster. Outside hitter Sianna Houghton graduated in the spring after four varsity seasons. Her older sister, Jessica Houghton, was a freshman during Cavella and Holland’s first year with the program in 2013.
The most personal roster turnover for Holland, though, was in seeing his daughter Riley graduate in the spring. Holland said his taking over the team the season after Riley’s graduation was merely a coincidence.
“She probably didn’t want me to be head coach while she was there,” Holland said. “But I certainly had no reservations while she was there.”
Menlo and the rest of the CCS volleyball world will have three weeks to get up to speed. The Knights open play Thursday, Aug. 29 hosting reigning CCS Division II champion Aragon at 6:30 p.m. Menlo then has two tournament appearances on consecutive weekends, including its 16-team annual host tournament, the Chandler Invitational, Sept. 7.
Coaching turnover in PAL
Paglialunga isn’t the only notable San Mateo County volleyball coach to have stepped away from a successful program.
Carlmont is moving on from varsity head coach Chris Crader, who ran the program from 2011-18. Crader led the Lady Scots to the CCS playoffs in each of his eight seasons, including a CCS Division I championship in 2017, compiling a 195-91 overall record during his tenure.
Crader is set to take over the varsity volleyball program at Palo Alto High School. Michael Lapuz will replace Crader as Carlmont’s varsity head coach.
Aragon will also see a coaching change with Kelsey Stiles departing after six years at the helm. Stiles recorded a 131-73 career record with the Lady Dons from 2013-18, including the program’s first CCS championship last season.
Taking over the program is Annette Gennaro-Trimble, who returns for her second tenure as Aragon’s varsity head coach.