Menlo’s new head coach Tony Holland survived his first year running the Chris Chandler Invitational, while enduring the longest day of anyone involved the school’s annual volleyball tournament.
Holland arrived on campus at approximately 6:30 a.m. to get an early start in playing host for the extended format. The tournament increased from 10 teams to a 16-team field this year, and saw 37 matches played, going past 8 p.m., on the four courts of the Johnson Family Athletic Center.
“This was my first year running it,” Holland said. “But it was quite a big part that we have great parents here … so it let me focus on coaching the team. Overall it was a great tournament and everyone seemed to have a great time.”
Menlo (9-3 overall) took second place in the tournament, falling in the gold bracket finals 25-20, 25-17 to St. Francis-Mountain View. Menlo and St. Francis were two of five teams appearing in the Chandler Invitational — along with Sacred Heart Prep, Aragon and Los Gatos — that also finished in the top eight at the renowned Milpitas Spikefest the previous weekend.
Menlo-Atherton took third place, falling to St. Francis in the gold bracket semifinals 21-25, 25-16, 15-12. While a third-place match wasn’t on the original schedule, one was added in the zero hour — the decision was made at approximately 3 p.m., according to Holland — and M-A went on to defeat Los Gatos 22-25, 25-19, 15-8 to earn third place outright.
First referee Jim Finch worked the main court for the entire event, overseeing 10 matches. When the third-place match was added, Holland put in a request with Finch to work the extra match. A local high school volleyball referee for the past 15 years — he has actually been affiliated with the Industrial Volleyball League, based in Redwood City, for the past 35 years as a player and referee — answered with a quick affirmative.
“He was like, ‘I’ll ref whoever you put on the court; I get paid hourly,’” Holland said.
Even with his wealth of volleyball experience, Finch saw something he’d never seen before in the championship match.
Early in the first set, Menlo sophomore Hanna Hoffman took a St. Francis shot off the head, which careened to hit one of her Menlo teammates in the head and bounded back her way. So, Hoffman — who played eight years of youth soccer prior to attending Menlo — thought quickly on her feet and promptly kicked the ball over the net to prolong the rally. Menlo eventually won the point.
“I’ve never seen that,” Finch said.
Kellerman takes aim at Knights
St. Francis (13-0) was led by 6-1 outside hitter Kirra Kellerman, who scorched a match-high 11 kills to lead her team to its 13th straight win to start the season. It also marked a new career-high of 5.5 kills-per-set for the second-year varsity junior.
Kellerman steadied the match early. With St. Francis leading 9-6, the junior rifled through the double block for her first kill of the match. She went back-to-back kills off the left side to up the lead to 15-10. Then sophomore opposite Madison Pietsch got in on the act, totaling seven kills in the match. Junior Soana Leaea closed out the opening set tooling a block through the middle.
In Game 2, Menlo jumped out to a 5-0 lead with an early showing from Hoffman, who scored a kill and a block during the run. St. Francis responded with a 9-2 run, including an ace by Pietsch to take an 8-7 lead. The Lancers would never trail again.
“I think it frustrated our young team a little bit,” Holland said of St. Francis’ balanced attack. “But I’m glad they were able to work through it and get on to the next point.”
Sophomore middle Sharon Nejad and freshman Havannah Hoeft led Menlo with four kills apiece.
“They had a strong hitter and we couldn’t really block her,” Nejad said. “… We had to get creative to get around the (St. Francis) block cause we’re a smaller, much younger team.”
Menlo graduated five seniors from last year’s WBAL Foothill Division championship team. The relatively youthful squad had just three seniors on the court Saturday, with libero Abby Holleran sitting out with a minor injury. The senior said she expects to play in Thursday’s WBAL opener at Sacred Heart Prep.
“I think that we learned when we’re on a high, we’re good at carrying that energy,” Holleran said of Menlo’s 4-1 record Saturday. “But we have to work on coming back.”
Along with graduating a core of 2018 players, Menlo is also acclimating to Holland, who was promoted to head coach with the departure of Marco Paglialunga. Holland worked as an assistant with Paglialunga and the Knights’ previous coach, Steve Cavella.
“It’s really been a really great ride so far,” Hoffman said. “I know last year we had an older team … but we’ve picked up where we left off and we’re just trying to build our program.”