Archbishop Mitty wins the last three sets to win Open Division championship: “They had a proper response to a punch in the face”
PALO ALTO — Staring at a Central Coast Section Open Division championship scoreboard that read “25-22” in favor of rival St. Francis after one set, there was no worry in Katelyn Cook’s or any of her Archbishop Mitty teammate’s eyes.
Mitty remained calm, made the passes, kills, digs and rallies it needed to make, and ended the afternoon as section champions after winning the final three sets 25-20, 25-22, 25-19 at Palo Alto High to add another CCS title to an already crowded trophy case.
“They had a proper response to a punch in the face,” Mitty coach Jon Wallace said.
After St. Francis had won all six meetings between the programs in 2022, including last year’s section title, the teams had split its four previous matches this season. Each team had won a match at a tournament and in West Catholic Athletic League play.
“It means so much, since we’ve been working so hard all year to get this, especially after losing to them all six times (last season),” Cook said.
St. Francis won the first set behind the stellar play of outside hitter Taylor Williams, who had seven kills during the game.
But Mitty rebounded in the second set, jumping out to a 9-4 lead early, forcing St. Francis coach Lake Merchen to call a timeout. His team did rally, but came up short to drop the second set.
“When you give a good team like Mitty some of those opportunities, they’re going to score,” said Merchen, who added that he believed his defense played well for the most part.
The third set was just as intense as the first two, St. Francis running off five consecutive points to tie the match at 21-all. The highlights for St. Francis included Sacha Touma coming through for a block and two kills during the run.
After the teams exchanged points, Mitty answered with a run of its own, following a St. Francis error and Amiya Kuchibhotla’s block with a Cook kill to take the second set.
“We talk a lot about keeping our heads up and staying in it no matter what,” Cook said. “We knew what we needed to do to beat this team.”
Mitty took control of the third set with a 7-0 run that saw Makenna Crosson contribute a kill and a block. Although St. Francis’ experienced players, led by outside hitter Erin Curtis, did not give up, Mitty stayed one step ahead. Isabella Romero and Jillian Pascual also had stellar games for the San Jose school.
Among the St. Francis players who had to watch Mitty lift the CCS trophy was libero Whitney Wallace, whose father just so happened to be the winning team’s head coach.
“I’m extremely proud of her, and I told her that.“ Wallace said. “I know what kind of competitor she is.”
Whitney Wallace’s team might have one more shot at evening up the season series. St. Francis and Mitty could face off in regional play, this time with an opportunity to represent NorCal on the line.
It’s a rematch Mitty wants, too.
“We love playing them,” Cook said. “It’s always a super-fun game.”
CCS Division I final: Salinas 3, Los Gatos 0
After a tough first set, Los Gatos was competitive in its final two games against Salinas, losing 25-16, 25-22, 27-25. Warmups were briefly halted when the fire alarm went off at Palo Alto’s gymnasium, with all players, coaches and spectators required to exit the building before being let back in.
“It’s one of those things where I was like it’s out of our control, and we have to let it do what it’s going to do,” Los Gatos coach Nicole Ciari said. “I was proud of my girls, because they came back out for warmups and picked right back up where they left off.”
Nicole Steiner led Los Gatos with 11 kills, and Mia Halsey had eight and freshman Britt Melinauskas was third with five. Maya Walker and Sarah Herman each had an ace for the Wildcats, who rallied from a large deficit in both the second and third sets.
“The third set was phenomenal, and we had to dig our way back into the match and did it consistently,” Ciari said. “There was never a point where I looked at them and could say ‘You guys gave up.’”