Since starting out the season with a 1-2 record, the Burlingame volleyball team has really found its footing.
The Panthers (19-5 overall) have won 11 of their last 12 matches, most recently sweeping five straight matches Saturday to capture the gold bracket championship at Spikefest II.
The annual tournament featured 48 teams, with Burlingame the only Peninsula Athletic League squad on the slate. And after defeating Hill-San Jose, Homestead-Cupertino and Branham-San Jose in early bracket play at Milpitas High, the Panthers earned a trip to Independence High School where they took down Los Gatos in the semifinals before holding off Lowell-San Francisco for a 25-21, 14-25, 15-13 victory in the championship match.
“Whew!” Burlingame first-year head coach Nick Monroe said. “It was relief. It was something … we were dead tired at that point, but we found energy in the last five points.”
Burlingame’s two outside hitters, senior Emma Madden and freshman Ella Duong, started the day slow. But each heated up at the right time, leading the Panthers in scoring in the championship match.
Madden totaled 28 kills through five matches, and saved her best total, a match-high nine kills, for the Lowell showdown. Duong totaled eight kills with a .304 hitting percentage in the final.
Sophomore Morgan Toomey also got reps at outside hitter, moving from her usual role as a middle blocker to give the Panthers extra firepower. In the third match of the day, a 25-22, 25-15 sweep of Branham, Toomey swung at a .550 clip while totaling 11 kills and a career-nest 5.5 kills per set.
“I saw she had a little extra in her today as an extra hitter … and she was just solid in putting balls away,” Monroe said.
In the championship match, Burlingame’s foothold seemed to be slipping away against a Lowell team that entered play riding a 10-match winning streak.
After dropping the second set, the Panthers found themselves trailing by 2 midway through the race to 15 in the decisive Game 3. But that changed when senior libero Kristi Lee stepped to the service line and went on a run. Lee totaled one ace in the match and added a team-high 10 digs.
“It was right down to the very end … and then some crazy hustle plays at the end that kept us in it,” Monroe said.
Junior middle Eliza Sharp finished with four kills and one block, while the rotation saw senior Keegan Boyse finish the match in the middle. Boyse totaled three kills and two blocks, and scored the championship point on a scrappy final rally.
Leading 14-13, Burlingame had a miscommunication on a free ball and squandered the opportunity but dug up the ensuing Lowell attack. The pass went wayward through, causing Boyse to attempt a tap over the net on the second touch. The Lowell block met Boyce, but the Burlingame senior won the joust and the point fell for the Panthers to win it.
“We ran on the court, we cheered,” Monroe said. “It was definitely a relief.”
One other lineup change that fueled Burlingame’s championship run was the promotion of freshman Abigail Aufhauser from the junior-varsity squad. She totaled two kills and one block in the championship match. The middle blocker will remain on the varsity roster going forward, Monroe said.
“She did her job,” Monroe said. “She’s very coachable and everything I gave her she applied. And that’s what you need as a varsity player … to take what the coach gives you and just apply it and execute it.”
Burlingame has its biggest test of the season coming up Tuesday with a share of first place in the Peninsula Athletic League Bay Division on the line. The second-place Panthers travel to first-place Hillsdale with one game separating the two in the standings.