A pair of girls volleyball matches and a girls tennis match Thursday officially kicks down the door of the 2107-18 school athletic season and there plenty of story lines to go around.
Menlo-Atherton travels to Monta Vista-Cupertino for a 2 p.m. nonleague match that will feature Julia Marks at the top of the ladder as Lanie Van Linge took a short break from tennis.
Van Linge dealt with a wrist problem last season to good results. He finally decided she needed to have it taken care of last December.
"She's been competing all summer," M-A coach Tom Sorenson said. "Even taking a little time off is rare for her."
Van Linge, who began practicing with the Bears on Tuesday, will return to the lineup in time for Monday's match at Sacred Heart Prep and a meeting with the Gators' Sara Choy, who had a 79-match winning streak against high school competition snapped in last year's Central Coast Section championship match.
Not many people witnessed Los Gatos' Ashley Yeah sterling, patient performance, though it was an enthralling competition worthy of the top two seeds.
Sacred Heart Prep came within a tie-breaker of knocking off Menlo School twice last season, in the two closest league matches the Knights faced in over 10 years.
Menlo enters the year with a 238-match league winning streak and the Gators appear the most likely to end the streak. They graduated one senior.
Van Linge and Choy are friends and have hit with each other.
"I know they have played each other at least twice," Sorenson said. "Both of them have improved and I'm eager to see the match. I look for it to be tight."
Van Linge will also miss the Golden State Invitational, to be held at Stanford on Sept. 8-9, but that's just fine with Sorenson, as he sees a chance for Marks to step up.
"We have a capable sub in Julia," he said. "I'm looking forward to that."
The Bears are currently on a 43-match league winning streak and with three players returning who are ranked in California's top 85, appear ready to continue it. M-A returns three first team all-PAL picks and and four second-team all-league picks.
Van Linge is ranked 21st in the state and 121st in the nation as a four-star prospect. Marks, the reigning PAL singles champion, ranks 306 nationally and 52nd in the state as a 3-star prospect. Both players will have to make a tough decision come February's national signing day.
Junior Sophia Longo, ranked 84th in the state, won't have to worry too much about college yet. There's no doubt where the future hopeful doctor dreams of going. She's a huge Stanford fan and a major supporter of Cardinal grad Nicole Gibbs, a two-time NCAA singles champion. Longo finished third in the PAL tournament last year.
The four second-team returners are juniors Kate Perri, Sarah Marks and Nia Zizman, and sophomore Elise Katzer.
"I just don't make predictions," Sorenson said. "I think we have a pretty good team and I expect to compete well. I never count on anything."
Gunn (17-14 last year) reached the quarterfinals of the CCS Division II tournament last year and has put together an intriguing preseason schedule that also includes defending state Division V champions Menlo School, De Anza Division defending champs Palo Alto and two tournaments.
The Titans lost five seniors but can turn to senior Dila Kurt and junior middle Monica Crichton for leadership and experience.
Praneet Nanda enters his second year as coach, which lends itself to stability. His system is engrained in the returning players, who also include Odeyo Russo, Zoe Pflasterer and Taylor Pedersen.
Woodside (24-12) also reached the quarterfinals of the CCS Division II playoffs. The Wildcats also lost a couple of key pieces and also have several promising players returning in sophomores Elena Campbell and Sarah Straus. Senior Monica Klopp also returns.
Sacred Heart Prep (26-12) reached the Northern California Regional semifinals in Division V last year.
Despite losing key players, the Gators have a wealth of experience and talent, with four seniors leading the way: setter Haley Martella, outside hitter Cate Desler and defensive specialists Celia Charlton and Caroline Caruso.
Juniors Ally Polverari and Alexa Barlett, along with sophomore Elena Radeff add experience.
The match with Half Moon Bay is a rematch of last year's CCS Division V semifinal match.
Sacred Heart Prep, Gunn, Menlo School and Castilleja are all entered in Spikefest I, jointly hosted by Milpitas and Independence high schools. The Gators beat the Knights in last year's event and could be a dark horse in the West Bay Athletic League behind Menlo and Notre Dame-Belmont.
With six seniors on this year's team, Menlo coach Marco Paglialunga figures he can ease off the reins a little bit.
"The seniors came in and started the right way," Paglialunga said. "They picked up where we left off and started leading the group. That makes things less complicated. They know the system and that makes it easier going forward."
Junior Selina Xu will miss the weekend's festivities as she plays for the USA youth team that is competing in Argentina.
"That's a benefit," Paglialunga said. "She's getting valuable international experience and others get a chance to show what they can do."
The Knights won't be lacking for talented players. Ashley Dreyer, Kristin Sellers, Sianna Houghton, Riley Holland, Caroline Bradley and Grace King can make up for a lot.