PALO ALTO — The third time was not the charm for Menlo-Atherton, as it fell in the Northern California Division I girls’ volleyball championship against defending champion Palo Alto 25-17, 25-8, 25-15 on Tuesday.
“We knew it was going to be a challenge,” M-A coach Jennifer Wilson said. “We had people playing positions they hadn’t played all season and that’s going to be tough for anyone going into that situation.”
It was M-A’s first trip to the NorCal title game after the Bears clinched their first Peninsula Athletic League Bay Division title since 2002.
With the win, Palo Alto advances to Saturday’s state championship, where it will meet Marymount (Los Angeles).
M-A (31-7) found out it would be without PAL Bay Player of the Year Ali Spindt, who was out sick, earlier in the day, but Wilson was proud of how the players responded to the challenge.
“We were thrown a knuckleball right before our game,” Wilson said. “The girls really stepped up. We were faced with adversity and they rose to the challenge.”
The Bears fell behind early in the first game 13-4, but mounted a comeback on 4-0 and 6-0 runs to close the gap to 17-16.
Junior Katelyn Doherty and sophomore Pauli King led the comeback with three and two kills, respectively.
“We tried to focus on what we could control on our side, which was serving tough and passing well,” Wilson said. “We did both of those things in the first game, which kept us in the match and put a lot of pressure on Palo Alto to deliver and execute with their big hitters.”
Doherty tallied a double-double with 11 kills and 16 digs for the Bears on the night. King chipped in with seven kills.
After a timeout, Palo Alto (35-3) went on an 8-3 run to close out the set, highlighted by three kills by University of Washington-bound Melanie Wade.
The Vikings carried that momentum into the second set and went on a 7-0 run, extending their overall run to 14-0.
Wade finished with a game-high 18 kills to go along with five blocks.
“We didn’t execute on the things we knew we can control,” Wilson said. “We got stuck in a sticky rotation and we couldn’t find a way to get out of it.”
Tuesday’s match marked the third time M-A and Palo Alto had faced off this season, with the Vikings taking the first two matches 2-0 and 3-0.