Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - September 6, 2013

Enrollment bump moves Castilleja volleyball to CCS Division IV

by Keith Peters

Castilleja has been in the news recently as it announced a need to boost its enrollment due to a high demand for spots at the $36,800-a-year-school in Palo Alto.

While that move may have helped the school financially, it may eventually hurt Castilleja athletically as the increased enrollment has moved the Gators up a division for Central Coast Section competition.

"Since their enrollment has to be doubled since they are a single-gender school, Castilleja now is above the 500-student enrollment limit for Division V," said Steve Filios, CCS Assistant Commissioner.

With 516 students, Castilleja is 16 students above the cutoff point for Division V. Thus, instead of battling teams like Priory and Notre Dame-Salinas for CCS honors in volleyball, the Gators will have to face the likes of Sacred Heart Prep and Menlo School.

Last season, Castilleja went 1-7 against teams that competed in the CCS Division IV playoffs.

"On the one hand," said first-year coach Jacqueline Heler, "this is a good thing as the long-term goal for the program is to build a squad that can compete with upper-division teams. On the other hand, of course, it is nice to have a chance to collect banners for the gym.

"We'll see . . . it will definitely be a challenge this first year, in particular. But, with 19 kids currently enrolled in our JV/frosh teams and a solid core in my underclassmen, the future is bright."

Heler, a Gunn High grad, comes to Castilleja after spending the past seven years living and playing professionally in Switzerland.

"I love volleyball, I like coaching, and I am happy living back in Palo Alto," Heler said. "The weather is certainly much nicer over here!"

Heler inherits a team that lost two seniors from its 2012 team that finished 17-16 following a loss in the CCS Division V semifinals. The Gators also are missing former head coach Tracie Meskell, who retired.

* * *

Priory girls' volleyball coach Dustin Moore showed up for the first day of practice a few weeks ago and was underwhelmed by the turnout. He had just six players.

A seventh player showed up a short while later, still hardly enough to conduct scrimmages.

"We weren't lacking at any position," Moore said of his talent level. "But, with any injuries or healthy problems, it would have been pretty sketchy."

Since then, however, those numbers have improved as Moore added three freshmen and had 11 suited up to open the 2013 season on Thursday.

Moore originally was going to leave the freshmen on the JV team, but he had 14 remaining after moving the other three up.

"I thought they would get a little more challenged," Moore said of his freshmen.

Priory had 16 players to start last season (including seven seniors) and finished with 14. The Panthers went 23-9 while winning the Central Coast Section Division V title and advancing to the NorCal finals before losing to eventual state champion Branson.

Senior outside hitter Marine Hall-Poirier returns for her final season along with senior setter Riley Gallivan and senior libero Michaela Koval. Junior Caroline Clark, a 6-foot-1 middle blocker, also is back. She's joined by 6-2 junior Anna Brett.

"We definitely took a hit (losing the seniors), but I like the group we have," said Moore. "Obviously, playing Sacred Heart Prep and Menlo (in the West Bay Athletic League Foothill Division) will be tough."

Moore has needed to ask new assistant coaches and recent college grads Iris Tolenada and Lauren Ding to take the floor so the Panthers could actually scrimmage. Tolenada starred at San Francisco State last season and was named to the 2012 NCAA Division II All-West Regional Tournament Team. She's the Gators' all-time leader in assists (4,618) and digs (1,259). Ding, a Gunn grad, was a standout four-year player at Cal State-Monterey Bay. Ding is the head JV coach while Tolenada is Moore's top assistant.

"It's been a little frustrating," Moore said of his lack of bodies. "Knock on wood, we'll go injury-free."

* * *

Sacred Heart Prep is coming off a huge season that saw the Gators reach the CIF Division IV state finals before losing and finishing 33-6. SHP won the CCS Division IV title, its third in the past four years, and shared the WBAL Foothill Division crown with Menlo.

The Gators, however, lost nine seniors to graduation. Junior outside hitter Victoria Garrick and junior setter Natalie Marshall return to lead the way for coach Damien Hardy's team.

* * *

Menlo School looks to be the favorite in the WBAL with the core of its team returning — headed by seniors Maddy Frappier, Melissa Cairo, Maddie Huber, Morgan Dressel, Sarah Bruml and junior setter Elisa Merten.

The Knights went 23-11 last year under coach Atlee Hubbard, who left to take over the women's volleyball team at Menlo College. Steven Cavella takes over the Knights after coaching at Crystal Springs the past seven seasons.

* * *

Palo Alto is coming off a 28-7 season that ended in the CCS Division I semifinals. Paly won back-to-back state titles in 2010 and '11. Palo Alto, however, was honored by the American Volleyball Coaches Association ( AVCA) for academic achievement. The Vikings achieved a team GPA of 3.5, qualifying them for the award.

Paly suffered two losses in SCVAL De Anza Division play last year, both to Los Gatos. Other than those setbacks, Paly hasn't lost in league play since 2010 and is 27-2 in its past 29 league outings.

Senior Keri Gee has verbally committed to Pacific as a walk-on while senior Lauren Kerr has done the same with Kenyon College (in Ohio). Senior outside hitter Becca Raffel is another top talent headed to the college ranks. Paly lost only two seniors from last year's squad.

* * *

Gunn will open its volleyball season Saturday at the Milpitas Spikefest with a new coach in Craig Bankowski. He's the executive director of the Palo Alto Elite Volleyball Club.

The 33-year-old, who was recently married, inherits a veteran roster that features a formidable front line of 6-foot-3 Jess Dinneen, 6-2 Elise Griffin and 6-1 Megan Mahoney — all juniors. Erica Johnston and Miranda Carothers are the only seniors on the team, which went 16-16 last season.

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