Last year, the Burlingame High School girls’ volleyball team won the Bay Division of the Peninsula Athletic League and advanced into the second round of the Central Coast Section playoffs before falling to Valley Christian.
This year, the Panthers want to get deeper into the postseason, but first they will have to defend their league title. Burlingame, which boasts a 17-3 overall record and 6-0 mark in league play, appears to be well on its way to doing that and the scary fact is this year’s Panthers team may be even better than last year.
“Our passing is better this year than previous years,” said Panthers coach Steve Erle minutes before watching his team dispatch Hillsdale 3-0 on Tuesday night. “That allows us to run our offense better.”
The core of the team is its four seniors — Leila Torres, Janelle Tulich, Michelle Neumayr and Nina Loew — who figure to be the key to moving the Panthers deeper into the postseason in their last attempt.
“All four of them have really blossomed this year,” Erle said.
With Tulich setting up the offense, the Panthers have been nearly unstoppable lately, winning 13 straight matches, and Neumayr has been the prime recipient of Tulich’s work.
“Janelle has the ability to put the ball anywhere on the floor she wants,” Erle said. “Michelle is the best hitter in the area.”
With the seniors are clearly the core of the team, the Panthers are also getting help from their younger players.
Libero Vanessa Neumann, a junior, has literally been giving Burlingame a huge lift.
“Vanessa is one of the quickest players we have,” Erle said. “She is only 5-9, but she can jump out of the gym.”
The Panthers have also received a boost from junior Madison McKeever, who has played and contributed at three different positions this year.
As Erle watches the season develop, he knows his team is capable of exceeding last year’s performance.
“If they play well, they can play with anyone,” Erle said of his team. “But like any high school team, there are times when they are inconsistent.”
But the biggest key to this year’s team in Erle’s estimation is that they are a team of players.
“They’ve really come together this year,” Erle said. “They love to have fun and there is no drama. We like that.”
The kind of drama Erle will like will come later this year when his team makes its run in the playoffs and if the Panthers keep up their current level of play, it will likely be a deep — and dramatic — run at that.
Coach: Steve Erle
League: Peninsula Athletic League Bay Division
2010 Record: 17-3 overall, 6-0 PAL Bay
Key players: Leila Torres, Janelle Tulich, Michelle Neumayr and Nina Loew
Key newcomers: Vanessa Neumann, Madison McKeever
Key stat: The Panthers have won 13 straight matches this year