2017 was a magical season for the Burlingame volleyball team. The Panthers captured the Peninsula Athletic League Bay Division title with a perfect 14-0 record to qualify for its first-ever spot in the Central Coast Section Open Division bracket.
Despite losing in the first round of CCS, the Panthers still advanced to the Northern California tournament, falling in the semifinals.
That was then. This is now.
In 2018, there will be some growing pains as the Panthers break in a first-year head coach as well as filling the holes left by the 2017 graduating class.
“(This year) it’s just not the same group of girls,” said Burlingame tri-captain Caroline Smith. “So far, it’s been a big focus on connecting. We’re still learning how your teammates work.”
Burlingame dove into the deep end of the pool Tuesday in its season opener as the Panthers hosted perennial CCS power, Sacred Heart Cathedral.
The Irish also had a strong showing in 2017, losing in the Nor Cal championship game.
But like most of the private schools in the West Catholic Athletic League, the Irish simply reload. SHC was sharp in its season opener as the Irish rolled to a three-game sweep of the Panthers, 25-16, 25-11, 25-17.
Despite losing her inaugural game as a head coach, Burlingame’s K’Lynn Solt was satisfied with her team’s performance.
“It was a good opportunity to play together (against another team),” Solt said. “SHC is a great match for us. They had a great team last year. We’re just trying to figure each other out.”
While the Panthers got into their attack efficiently, they had a hard time putting balls away against a strong SHC defense.
The Irish, on the other, hand, had a number of different players wreak havoc. SHC was led by 6-0 outside hitter Megan Lenn, who finished with a match-high 16 kills, and 5-8 opposite hitter Lauren Sera, who finished with 10.
Burlingame was led by 5-10 junior middle hitter Naomi Johnson, who had five kills. Smith, along with Melanie Pitzer, had four kills each.
SHC got off to a quick start, winning the first four points of the match before Burlingame finally stabilized. Down 4-0, the Panthers got their first point of 2018 on an SHC mistake and Eloise Uhrich followed with a pair of service winners to close to 4-3.
The rest of the first set developed in similar fashion: SHC would spurt out to a lead, only to see the Panthers close to a couple points.
Burlingame was down 15-10 before it won five of the next seven points to close to 17-15.
But then the Irish put the pedal to the floor as Sera took over. She had four kills as SHC went on a 8-1 run to close out the first set.
In the second, those first-game mistakes emerged for Burlingame as the Panthers fell behind quickly and could never catch up.
Early in the second set, it was the Panthers’ inability to even set up an attack as both Burlingame setters were called for numerous double touches. SHC took advantage as it jumped out to an 11-1 lead.
Later, it was the Panthers’ lack of serving that did them in as they committed five service errors as the Irish cruised to a 25-11 win.
“First-game jitters,” Solt said.
In the third game, the Panthers put together their best set of the match. It was apparent on the first point as Burlingame dug up three SHC attacks before the Irish committed a net violation, giving Burlingame a 1-0 lead — its first and only lead of the match.
Much like the first set, Burlingame stayed close for awhile, down just 10-7 following an Irish hitting error.
But like it did in Game 1, the Irish got into a flow in Game 3 and eventually extended their lead to 18-10. Burlingame got as close as 18-12, but then did not score another point until SHC was serving for match point. The Panthers got a roof block from Johnson and SHC committed an error before the Irish ended things.
“For us, it’s about identifying those things … that will get us to the finish line,” Solt said. “There is nothing (that happened Tuesday) we can’t work on and fix.”