LARKSPUR — Outgunned by a mighty Redwood squad, Burlingame bowed out of the state volleyball tournament Saturday night.
The No. 3-seed Panthers fell 25-18, 25-19, 25-14 in the Division III bracket of the CIF State Volleyball Championships regional semifinals. It matches the best finish in program history, as Burlingame has qualified for the state tournament four times in the past five postseasons.
Through the emergence of Burlingame as a Northern California volleyball power over the past six years, the team has reached the regional semifinal round under three different coaches, Nilo Mauricio in 2017; K’lynn Solt in 2019; and Nick Monroe in 2021. And with just four seniors on roster this season, the Panthers are looking to contend for years to come.
“I think it’s just girls coming to Burlingame knowing that our volleyball program is very welcoming, and we work our hardest,” Burlingame senior Emma Madden said. “Our team is very young this year, with Nick being the new coach. They have so much potential and so much room to grow … and I can’t wait to come back in a couple years and see what happens with them.”
The Panthers (26-7) were riding high after last Thursday’s three-set win at home over Archie Williams-San Anselmo in the Nor Cal quarterfinals. Burlingame delivered the most dominant performance the Division III bracket has seen this season with a 25-9, 25-8, 25-23 victory.
“Our serving was really on point,” Monroe said. “We didn’t give [Archie Williams] any chance to run their offense, and that’s what really showed on the scoreboard. I think having the home court pretty much throughout the postseason, and not having a home-court [Saturday] kind of played into it, and the travel.”
No. 2 Redwood-Larkspur (28-6) looked like a team on a mission Saturday. The Giants also have emerged as a state power in recent years under fourth-year head coach Ursula Gruenert. Redwood has advanced to the state tournament in each of the three postseasons since she has taken over the program.
“This is a pretty historic season for us,” Gruenert said.
Burlingame’s backrow defense included some valiant play from Madden, freshman Ella Duong and sophomore Morgan Toomey. But the Redwood attack simply featured an array of firepower seldom seen by the Panthers this season, with the Giants dominating in total team kills 37-19.
Redwood senior outside hitter Brooke Leslie led all hitters with 10 kills, sophomore Jaden Hendrickson added nine kills and three blocks, and high-flying junior Emma McDermott totaled eight. Madden and senior middle Keegan Boyce led Burlingame with five kills apiece.
“All around, their offense is really good having a game plan and they executed,” Madden said. “I don’t want to discredit them, but we weren’t as ready as we should have been.”
Toomey was on point in the early going of Game 1, picking up thundering swings to prolong rallies. A block by junior middle Eliza Sharp drew Burlingame close at 10-9, but Redwood countered with a 5-1 run with a slide-step off the right side by junior middle Katelyn McKnew, and a razor down the sideline off the left by Leslie.
The Panthers kept within striking distance, closing it to 15-13 on a Toomey ace. But when Redwood forced a side-out at 21-17, McDermott followed with her first of three match aces. Leslie closed out Game 1 with a blast off the left side for her fifth kill of the set.
Burlingame was at its best in Game 2 with Madden in the backrow. The senior six-rotation player was the Panthers’ best response to Redwood’s thunder.
“She has a go-getter mentality,” Monroe said. “She doesn’t shy away from a hard-hit ball. She wants to put herself in position to get a dig rather than hide behind a block. So, that’s what you ask for as a coach is a girl who wants to go out there and dig a ball.”
The Panthers held their last lead of the night at 5-3 on back-to-back kills by Sharp. Tied at 14-14, though, Leslie and Hendrickson led the Giants on a 7-0 run. An ace by Duong made it 21-17. Redwood answered with a kill through the middle by junior Lola Folk, and McDermott ended it with some mad ups to tool a block off the left side.
Redwood walked to victory in Game 3, opening an early 11-4 lead with back-to-back blocks by McKnew and never looking back. Madden totaled three of Burlingame’s six kills in the set, including her team’s last point of the season to make it 22-14. McKnew closed it out with two of her four match kills, including a lofty hook-shot off the right side to end it.
Coupled with Menlo School’s loss to St. Francis-Mountain View in the Open Division of the Northern California regional semifinals Saturday, the only San Mateo County team still alive in the CIF playoffs is Hillsdale. The Lady Knights advanced to the Division I regional finals with Saturday’s four-set win over Amador Valley.
Burlingame was one of three teams from the Peninsula Athletic League Bay Division to earn a bid to the CIF playoffs. Menlo-Atherton was eliminated in the opening round of the Division III bracket. Hillsdale won the Bay Division title, with Burlingame taking second place and M-A taking fourth. Aragon finished in third place and was eliminated in the Central Coast Section Division II playoff semifinals.
“I think at the beginning of the season, playing in that division kind of humbled us a little bit,” Boyce said. “As time went on, we started to realize we were just as good, if not better. And no matter what, if we put the work in, we could get wherever we wanted to go. So, it was really humbling. But at the same time, it made us work harder.”
It was emotional scene following Burlingame’s loss, especially for Boyce, being one of four graduating seniors on the squad.
“It’s been amazing,” Boyce said as she apologized for tearing up. “At the beginning of the season, I didn’t think we’d make it this far. And it’s been so great getting to know all the girls and playing on this team with them. Nick as a coach has been such a great coach and, overall, it’s just been an amazing season full of lots of surprises. And it’s been really awesome.”