The Great Divide

The+Great+Divide

Dickson Tsai

The varsity girls volleyball team comes together just before the Oct. 25 game versus Palo Alto High School, which MVHS lost 0-3. The team struggled throughout the season in the De Anza League this year.

Last year, varsity girls basketball entered winter break riding high with a 6-4 record. Then, the entire season took a turn: the team took loss after loss, going 1-11 in their league games. The team redeemed itself by qualifying for the Central Coast Section playoffs and advancing with a 51-43 win over Leland High School.

“I always call us the ‘Tweener’ team,” varsity girls basketball head coach Sara Borelli said. “We could play some teams in the A league but we were almost always dominant [versus] the teams in the B league.”

This is the central conflict facing the varsity girls basketball team and girls volleyball teams, as they have trouble finding competitive balance between the upper De Anza League (classified as an “A” league) and the lower El Camino Athletic League (classified as “B”). After two unsuccessful seasons in the DAL, girls basketball have been relegated to the ECAL this season.

The two teams struggled during the regular league season but agreed that the high-level competition ultimately improved their performance in the postseason.

“We’re going to be tough, we’re going to learn to be motivated,” varsity girls volleyball head coach Colin Anderson said. “We’re lucky to compete at this high level against such quality competition.”

Leagues apart
Palo Alto High School, the volleyball Division I state champions last year, and Los Gatos High School were just two of the powerhouses within the DAL. Both squads recognized their distinct size disadvantage against the other DAL schools.

“[The difference] is really high. You have people like [PAHS] who go to NorCal and win the whole thing,” varsity girls volleyball defensive specialist junior Allison Yu said. “We’re not tall enough to compare sometimes, but it’s okay, it’s still fun.”

The trends of the basketball and volleyball teams highlight the difference between the two leagues. For the 2007 and 2008 seasons, girls basketball achieved an 8-4 and 11-1 ECAL record respectively, but dropped to 5-7 and 1-11 in their next two seasons in the DAL. Volleyball had an 11-1 ECAL record in 2009, but 4-8 in 2010 after being promoted to the DAL.

“The discrepancy between the two leagues is so frustrating,” Borelli said. “It’s not balanced at all.”

However, the league classification becomes important in determining playoff qualification, as participation in a higher league is a practical guarantee for a playoff spot. According to the CCS Girls Volleyball Bylaws, non-automatic qualifiers get a five point bonus just for competing in an “A” ranked league with one bonus point for each match versus an “A” league opponent. Meanwhile, CCS granted varsity girls basketball automatic qualification last year from its participation in the DAL. Despite undergoing difficult seasons, both teams would be able to compete in the postseason.

“Every team [in the DAL] made the playoffs; every team made it at least past the second round of playoffs,” Anderson said. “You’re asking for some good, quality competition [in the DAL].”

Rallying against the opponents
“It’s tough. It’s challenging. It gets frustrating to lose,” Anderson said.
While the losses increased, the teams learned to adjust against their larger opponents instead of giving up outright.

“Our hitters always went up against taller players. Always,” Anderson said. “They learned not to be discouraged but how to work through that, how to hit the ball round rather than pound it through, and they got so much better for that.”

Even within the blowout games, both teams showed flashes of its maximum potential. Volleyball took a set 30-28 against LGHS, while basketball won 71- 66 on the road against Mountain View High School. It was these moments that would bring the teams closer together and inspire them to continue pushing forward.

“It was a time where we had to prove ourselves and try harder,” varsity girls basketball center Nassim Moallem said. “Sure we didn’t win very many, but at the same time we were able to improve a lot because of it.”
Ultimately, the challenging schedule provided a learning experience that the lower ECAL could not by presenting the teams with an even higher standard for which to aim. However, each loss still tested the strength of team morale to the limit, resulting in the fundamental conflict for participating in the “A”-level DAL.

“It’s a Catch-22 because I think what the losses did for us … it just helped us get better as a team,” Borelli said. “I know that my team never quit, they never gave up. We looked at every situation as a growing experience, and I think that was the most important thing for us as a team.”
Playoffs: Reclaiming the season
Through playoff qualification by virtue of the difficult DAL schedule, the two teams had one final opportunity to validate their ability — to show that they had, in fact, grown from their DAL experience. This experienced showed when girls basketball defeated Leland High School and girls volleyball outlasted San Benito High School in the first round.

“We even played better in CCS probably because of the fact that we were facing such hard teams,” Moallem said. “It gave us the chance to show that we did improve, [that] we were a good team regardless of how difficult our actual season was.”

Both teams would end up losing their second-round match-ups, but their progress in the playoffs gave them a true measure of their standing within the entire CCS. The playoffs were an assurance that they were still very capable teams.

“The playoffs give you an idea of where you could be, where you’re losing all the games in the A league but you still do very well in the playoffs,” Borelli said. “Going into the second round was big for us.”

Separate paths

Girls volleyball and girls basketball knew that an easy schedule with the ECAL would produce meaningless wins, and so they accepted the double-edged sword of a tougher DAL schedule.

“I’m so happy for my players that they can have a good season, that they could lose 17 matches and still think this is a successful season,” Anderson said. “That’s a lot of maturity on their part and realizing how strong they are and how strong their opposition [is].”

Varsity volleyball remains confident that they belong in the DAL because of their success in playoffs and tournament wins. In fact, they won a key five-set game against Homestead High School to finish ahead of Gunn High School in league.

“I like De Anza still because losing is bad, but if we still work hard and all the teammates support each other then it does’t really matter so much,” Yu said.

However, girls basketball will have to look forward to playing in the ECAL this year after being demoted. The team believes that moving down this season, with the opportunity for more wins, would rebuild team morale.

“I think its better to be in a lower league now because now we really have a chance to prove our worth,” Moallem said. “Everyone’s strengths are so different from last year, and we are really optimistic this year compared to last year.”