The Knights make their own state volleyball history


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Dea Dressel wanted the team to have its own banner. Jessica Houghton wanted to erase the lingering ill-effects of a loss in a state final three years previously and Mia Vandermeer wanted to make her older sister proud.

The Menlo School girls' volleyball team accomplished all of that and more in a year of firsts for the program. The Knights reached the zenith Saturday morning in Orange when they earned a state championship.

After losing in its first five state championship match appearances, Menlo shook off the negative history, beating Point Loma-San Diego, 25-18, 25-13, 25-21, at Santiago Canyon College for the CIF Division IV title.

Along the way, the Knights dropped one set in defeating Cardinal Newman, Branson, Monte Vista Christian and the Pointers.

"They played wonderfully," Menlo first-year coach Marco Paglialunga said. "At this age it is not easy to play right away in this type of game at this level, with the television and the (intensity) and importance of the game. But, they started and immediately were on top of every play.”

Junior Ashley Dreyer and sophomore Selina Xu each had a team-high 12 kills. Xu posted a triple double, adding 10 digs and 19 assists.

"They were in the right spot on defense, they were moving correctly on the block," Paglialunga said. "They really were applying everything that we practiced and talked about."

Senior libero Jessica Houghton picked up 15 digs while junior Riley Holland and sophomore Sianna Houghton each had 11. Sianna Houghton also collected eight kills, and Junior Kristin Sellers posed 22 assists for Menlo

It was also the first year at Menlo for Paglialunga, a longtime Italian National Team coach, and though he taught many high-school age players, was his first year coaching a high school team.

"I told them before the match that my idea of how they had done this season would not change with whether they win or lose this (state title) match," Paglialunga said.

The Knights won the NorCal championship five other times: 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, and last in 2013 when Jessica Houghton was a freshman, and the Knights lost the state final in four sets. Vandermeer's older sister, Lida, was on the 2013 team as well.

The walls in Menlo's six-year gymnasium are adorned by banners heralding the various athletic accomplishments. Dressel wanted this year's team to be remembered by its own banner “so we could see it whenever we came back,” the senior said.

Paglialunga said the Knights' dedication (combined they missed three practices among 14 players the entire season) and receptiveness led to their success.

"It wasn't easy for them to radically change the way you play and practice and having a coach with a different background," he said. "They were open-minded, they're smart, and they wanted to do their best. They cared about what they were doing and they cared about each other. Tactically, their chemistry, this one was the best (match) they played and I'm so glad it came now, on the other side of the journey."

— Palo Alto Online Sports/Menlo Athletics

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