A loss brought the team together and a mantra kept them together. There was also a little bit of fun and quirkiness.
A desire to play all for one and one for all equated to a successful run through the Central Coast Section girls volleyball Division I tournament for Menlo-Atherton.
“We played for our seniors, the crowd and the school,” M-A junior libero Clara Cronin said. “The seniors are our rock. They are always there for us. They are amazing. When the football team shows support, it’s inspiring. We love it when they come. It’s so fun.”
Menlo-Atherton, seeded seventh, won the CCS D-I title by defeating No. 4 Monta Vista 25-21, 26-24, 11-25, 26-24 at Gunn on Saturday afternoon.
“The seniors are beautiful humans who support us every day,” junior Rebecca Schulman. “They give us great spirit. We love playing with them.”
The Bears (19-17) stumbled quite a bit with a monster schedule (they were 0-7 against teams playing in the Open Division) but they never fell.
“I said they could get here from the beginning,” M-A coach Bryant Tran said. “They looked at me like I was a little crazy. They were still learning before they realized they could always play like this.”
M-A made no excuses this season, they just kept playing. The Bears did, however, get shocked out of complacency in a Peninsula Athletic League loss to previously winless San Mateo.
“After that, we realized we needed to keep fighting if we wanted to accomplish anything,” Schulman said. “We needed to want it more than the other team.”
Assistant coach Keilani Mayo, a Valley Christian grad, borrowed a saying from her collegiate days at Westmont College as a reminder to keep their intensity: “All gas, no brakes.”
“That told us to keep pushing forward,” Cronin said. “We couldn’t let up. Once they told us we could play in the CCS, it was like starting over.”
M-A ran the gauntlet, playing and beating four Santa Clara Valley Athletic League teams, including the No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 seeded teams in order to raise the championship plaque.
“The won-loss record doesn’t matter,” Cronin said. “It all comes down to where we are now.”
“The seniors mean a lot to us,” Tran said. “They’ve been through a lot the past couple of years and they keep coming out to contribute in games and in practice.”
Bridget Gray is the only senior among four team captains in what Tran terms “a culture of confidence.”
Gray, Cronin, Schulman and Anna Ryan are each responsible for a part of M-A’s game plan, inserting their own ideas of how to attack, how to defend, and even what to say in team huddles.
Schulman and Cronin have developed their own way of keeping each motivated. They call it “a little handshake” but they had to put a lot of time into choreographing the routine performed just before the start of every set.
It starts with a handshake but ends in a hug and it’s something they’ve been doing for the majority of the season.
“We do it to keep focused and give each other inspirational quotes,” Schulman said.
M-A fell behind 20-14 in the second set, forcing Tran to call time. The Bears returned to the court and went on an 8-2 run, with three kills each from Ryan and senior Eliza Boyle, tying the set at 22.
Monta Vista took the next two points on a kill and a service ace to reach match point, when never came. The Bears scored the final four points, including a block from seniors Summer Prescott and Gray and a kill from Prescott to end it.
The Matadors (15-12) completely dominated the third set, getting 11 points on M-A errors while committing just two of their own.
The fourth set also produced some anxiety as Monta Vista took an 18-15 lead before Gray recorded a kill and Cronin served up two consecutive aces.
Monta Vista was still ahead at 21-19 before junior Christina Kerr and Ryan put the Bears ahead to stay. Some drama remained as the Matadors tied at 24 before Gray scored on a kill to put M-A at match point. A Monta Vista hitting error gave the Bears the win.
M-A advances to the Northern Regional of the state tournament that gets under way Tuesday. Seeding will be held Sunday.
Menlo School had it’s 18-match winning streak end with a 30-28, 25-19, 25-21 loss to top-seeded Mitty in Saturday’s championship game at Gunn.
“They are a match-up problem for us and we did a good job with that in the first set,” Menlo coach Tony Holland said. “We’ll get back in the gym, find out who we play, and get to work. I imagine we’ll be in Open Division and I’m hoping our body of work gives us at least one home match.”
At least the Knights (28-6) can enjoy their team banquet before then.
Menlo had a couple of chances to win the first set before Mitty finally delivered the winning blow.
“That was big,” Mitty coach Jon Wallace said. “They had a lot of confidence and if we had lost that set it could have been rough. I don’t think they lost their confidence but I do think we slowed it down a little.”
Mitty won its first CCS title since 2017. The Monarchs won six consecutive section titles between 2012-17 and each time went on to capture the state title.
Mitty was won 22 CCS titles and 17 state titles overall.
Menlo senior outside hitter Sharon Nejad recorded nine of her team-high 18 kills in the first set.
Hanna Hoffman delivered a cross-court kill and Simone Adam served an ace for a 25-24 lead. The teams tied at 26 and 28, when Mitty put away the game on a service error and Kendra MacDonald's kill and ace.
The Knights pulled ahead 7-2 in the second set, but Mitty climbed back to tie at 8 and took over the lead for good.
Mitty lead from the start in the third set. The Knights pulled to within two on kills by Hoffman and Nejad and a Nejad block but could not overtake Mitty.
Nejad hit .621 for the match while Adam added seven kills, five digs and three aces.
Senior Zoe Gregory distributed 24 assists, had five digs and a pair of aces. Hoffman picked up 10 assists, four kills and six digs. Senior Alli McKenney added eight digs and sophomore Cleo Hardin had four kills and two blocks.