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The Campanile

Top 10 Paly Sports moments of the decade


As the decade that gave us three Golden State Warriors championships, four failed 49ers seasons and three San Francisco Giants World Series wins comes to an end, it is safe to say that there were many iconic sports moments that defined 2010-19. And when it comes to the world of Paly sports, there is no exception. 

From 2010 to 2019, Paly students and the Palo Alto community have attended thousands of games, seen tens of Central Coast Section championships and experienced many impressive sports moments. From watching now Pro Bowl NFL player Davante Adams sport the Paly jersey, to seeing a fellow classmate Lily Zhang compete in the 2012 London Olympics, Paly athletes continued its dominance for the past 10 years with their many historical accomplishments. 

As the year 2020 commences, with the help of former Paly athletic directors and alumni, The Campanile looks back at the top 10 Paly sports moments that lit up the past decade.

[divider]1. Football wins first state championship[/divider]

Inside the Peery Center lies five prized state championship banners, and residing in the center, proudly representing the top Paly sports moment of the decade, is the 2010 Division I Football State Championship title.

After defeating West Catholic powerhouses Mitty, Bellarmine and Valley Christian High School, Paly faced the nation’s No. 4 team, Centennial-Corona High School, during a rain-drenching game in Southern California.

After having led the team all season, quarterback Christopher Bono, son of NFL player Steve Bono, and wide receiver Davante Adams, a current Green Bay Packer, continued to dominate in this culminating game. After touchdowns by Paly alumnus Maurice Williams and one by Adams, Paly edged past Centennial-Corona 15-13 in a shocking win.

“Needless to say, we were huge underdogs, but we never really felt that way,” former Defensive Coordinator Jake Halas said. “We held them to 15 points and became state champions. Best team I’ve ever coached.”

When the team returned, the community showered them with support as the city organized a parade for both the boys football and girls volleyball state championship teams. With over 2,500 people in attendance, the teams gave speeches at Palo Alto City Hall and celebrated their feats with the entire community. Halas said the team is definitely one to be remembered forever in Paly history.

“It was amazing,” Halas said. “It was a very special group of kids. We had tremendous players (who) had high character. They were tough, smart, fast and had a ton of swagger. They truly felt that they would beat every team they faced … and they did (14-0).”

[divider]2. Girls volleyball beats nation’s no. 1 for states[/divider]

Coming in at No. 2 is the girls volleyball team’s league title, Central Coast Section championship, NorCal title and finally a Division I state championship, all in 2010, for the first time in program history.

The Vikings went up against the nation’s No. 1 at the time, Long Beach Poly High School, and played a thrilling game that was neck and neck up until the final fifth set, during which Paly was down several points. Dave Winn, the girls varsity volleyball coach at the time, still remembers that nerve-racking set.

“At 7-11, I went from coach to cheerleader and just started pumping the crowd up and the players and trying to keep them loose and having fun,” Winn said. “I still remember how the last two points went. Maddie Kuppe said to me, ‘I got this.’ And you know, she was a junior going back to serve for the state title, I said, ‘you’ve got to be nervous,’ but she just said, ‘I got this.’”

Kuppe served two laser serves in a row for a pair of aces to take the game. The team dogpiled on the court, amazed at what they just accomplished, according to Winn.

The winning team was celebrated immensely by the community in the parade, which was a surreal experience for the team, Winn said. He also said the 2010 Paly volleyball team cemented their place in Paly sports history, and they will always be something he holds dear to his heart.

“Those two state championships are in the top five  (moments) of my life,” Winn said. “First is marrying my wife, second is having my kids, and volleyball has got to be up there. I told the team before the game, there will never be another first in the program history – you guys did it all. They will be a team that will be remembered forever.”

[divider]3. Girls Golf makes state history, takes the title[/divider]

The most recent moment on our list is the 2019 girls golf team taking home the state title for the first time in Paly history, making them the first Northern California girls golf team ever to win states.

With a sweep of league title, CCS title and qualifications in Norcals, the team made their way to the finals for the first time since the inception of the Paly girls golf team.

According to senior captain Katherine Sung, qualifying for states was a goal the team had set since her freshman year. Once they qualified, however, the team didn’t expect to win the title of being the best team in California, and Sung said it was a monumental accomplishment for the program.

“We had no idea that we were gonna win states, and going into it, we were just trying to focus on playing our best,” Sung said. “Going in as underdogs, we wanted to just make sure we made the most of this experience. Winning it was just the cherry on top of an awesome season, and (it’s) still so crazy to think that we are one of the six Paly teams to have won a state championship.”

Girls golf had success earlier on in 2013 when it was initially formed, with college-bound golfer and Paly alumna Michelle Xie, who played golf at Harvard University. According to Sung, the program has only improved since then, and is amazed at the achievements of the team.

“(Xie) carried the team to states the first year and has given all future Paly golf players something to look up to,” Sung said. “I’m so proud of my team, and I’m really going to miss them next year. I hope they continue the Paly girls golf success!”

[divider]4. Girls volleyball takes state title … again[/divider]

No, this is not the same game as what was previously mentioned, and yes, girls volleyball won back-to-back Division I state championships, making them the first Paly team to ever do so.

Coming off of a Cinderella story season in 2010, the girls varsity volleyball team were determined to return to states from the beginning, according to Winn.

Similar to the first state championship, the game went to the wire in the fifth and final set, going up to 15 points. After trading off points with opponent Marymount High School, the No. 1 school in the nation at the time, they fell six points behind at the end of the fifth. The odds were very unlikely, as Marymount was two points away from the title. However, through defensive efforts and ball control, Paly was able to rally back from an almost impossible deficit to take the game.

“To be honest, I don’t clearly remember rallying from a deficit in either game, but I can still feel the energy on the court,” Kuppe said. “Our team focused on each play, rather than the scoreboard. Winning was the end goal, but we were always competing in the moment.”

Kuppe, an integral player in both the 2010 and 2011 state championship team, has a mural dedicated to her in the Peery Center. According to Kuppe, although she is shown in the gym, the whole team should be honored for their historical contribution to Paly sports.

“It’s surreal — no one person could truly represent that time and do it justice, so I’m incredibly humbled that I was chosen (for the mural),” Kuppe said. “I’m proud that our team brought two championship titles to Paly. Being a part of that success will always hold a special place in my heart.”

[divider]5. Buzzer beater to beat Los Gatos in CCS CHAMPS[/divider]

At No. 5 is the buzzer beater three-pointer that capped the win for the 2017 CCS Championships against rival Los Gatos High School. The game was extremely close at the last few seconds, when Gatos ceded the opportunity to extend their lead with a missed free throw.

The game-winning shot made by Paly alumni Spencer Rojahn caused over 100 students to storm the court and dogpile on their CCS champions.

“It was pretty tense while Dylan Belquist was shooting free throws,” Rojahn said. “Once he missed the second free throw, to keep the game tied, the Paly student section relaxed. After I hit the shot, the Paly student section went nuts and stormed the court. I don’t think anyone expected me to take, or make, the game-winning shot.”

The 2016-17 boys varsity basketball team made an impressive run in the state tournament finishing runner up at the NorCal Championships, one game shy of the state championship game. With unpredicted wins against highly ranked teams such as Dublin High School and St. Mary’s Stockton High School, Rojahn said that the postseason was something to be remembered.

“It feels amazing knowing that I am a part of the best Paly sports moments of the past decade,” Rojahn said. “None of this would have been possible without my teammates and coaches. That season and the incredible playoff run should be included in the best Paly sports moments in history.”

[divider]6. Sophomore represents the U.S. in Olympics[/divider]

No. 6 is Paly alumna Lily Zhang qualifying for the 2012 London Olympics when she was just a sophomore. Zhang entered as the youngest tennis table player and joined three peers from her training club to form the U.S. team.

While most Olympians put training as a priority during the four years before the games, Zhang, being only 16 at the time, said that balancing school with her training was challenging and required her to make many sacrifices of being a normal teenager. However, being one of the nation’s most elite athletes, Zhang felt honored to have this opportunity.

“Being selected to the Olympic team was a dream come true, and it felt incredible to know that all the time and hard work I invested finally paid off in the end,” Zhang said. “Of course, the selection was well-received, but I’m happy to say that I don’t think people treated me any differently. I still felt super comfortable amongst my peers, teachers and staff at Paly.”

After the 2012 Olympics, Zhang acquired several more titles and qualified again for the 2016 Rio Olympics. Given her intense practice and travelling schedules for events, Zhang attributes her success to the caring support system she had at Paly and the staff that gave her opportunities to chase her dreams.

“I’m truly grateful to Paly for being one of the most accommodating and supportive systems I’ve ever been a part of,” Zhang said. “I actually know that a lot of U.S. table tennis athletes and some of my own teammates had immense difficulty working with their schools to travel to competitions, but Paly never held me back.”

[divider]7. Paly makes history for all CCS public schools[/divider]

Many public schools know the pain of losing to private schools in the playoffs, especially after a terrific season. As the 2017-18 boys basketball team found themselves in the Open Division of CCS basketball, they were determined not to let this happen.

Open Division, which for basketball started in 2013, is the highest division for high school playoffs, where the CCS committee chooses the most elite teams out of all the other divisions to duke it out, with private schools dominating all sports every year.

“At the beginning of the season, one of our main goals was to make the open division since we had missed it the year before due to losing to (Menlo- Atherton High School),” Paly alumnus and Purdue University basketball player Jared Wulbrun said. “Once we made it, we knew there had never been a public school to win and we all had the mindset that we were going to be the first to do so.”

The team defeated Saint Ignatius, becoming the first public boys team to ever win a game in CCS open division. Wulbrun said the game was his favorite high school game he has played in, and is proud that he was part of a history breaking event for all public schools.

“The team we had will go down in Paly history as one of the best teams to ever go through the school,” Wulbrun said. “Back-to-back state final fours, two league titles, making the Open Division and becoming the first public school to win a game, beating the first seed in the state playoffs in back-to-back years. All of that, among other things, was why that team was so special.”

[divider]8. Swimmer breaks SCVAL record by olympian[/divider]

In 1967, Mark Spitz, a nine-time Olympic champion and one of the greatest swimmers in history, set the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League record that held for 45 years, until Paly alumnus Andrew Liang became a Viking.

Liang beat the time by 1.22 seconds at the SCVAL championships.

He said that this feat was a huge accomplishment for him as he still looks back on it in his career.

“Being able to break his record was special,” Liang said. “To even be mentioned alongside him is an incredible honor. I think at the time, the magnitude of the accomplishment hadn’t quite fully sunk in, but as I look back at my swimming career, it was definitely an event that I remember very fondly, especially since the league meet that year was held at Paly, and a few of my good friends had come to watch.”

Ranked in the top of his recruiting class in high school, Liang was an All-American his junior year and competed at the Olympic trials and world championship trials as only a sophomore. As one of the most prolific swimmers to attend Paly, Liang is grateful to be remembered among some of the best Paly athletes.

“Paly has such a rich tradition of excellence when it comes to athletics,” Liang said. “Many incredible athletes have come through — from Jim Harbaugh, Jeremy Lin, Joc Pederson and Davante Adams who all came before me, to current NFL player Keesean Johnson and Olympian Lily Zhang, who were both in my graduating class. So it definitely is an incredible honor to be a part of Paly’s top sports moments of the decade.”

[divider]9. Runner breaks 3 Paly track records in 1 season[/divider]

Usain Bolt, the fastest man in the world, is what Paly alumnus EJ Floreal reminded track and field coach Jason Fung of in 2012. Floreal’s speed was unmatched as he broke the 100-meter, 200-meter and 4×100-meter relay Paly records, that have all been held for over 20 years, in a single season.

“EJ made it look easy,” Fung said. “Records are always meant to be broken, but the 100, 200 and 4×100 relay looked unattainable as you see with the 20 years or so that they stood.  Finding four individuals and being able to have collective speed for the relay was a hard task.  Individually, having an athlete like EJ made my job as a coach at times much easier knowing (I) had him to compete where (I) needed to fill in holes.”

Floreal inherited great genes, according to Fung, being the son of two high level Olympians: Lavonna Floreal, a medalled hurdler, and Edrick Floreal, a long jumper.

“EJ was very special,” Fung said. “He stood almost 6 feet four inches (tall) and was just lightning fast.  He reminded me of Usain Bolt at that height. He made sprinting look so effortless. His stride length at the time of his high school career couldn’t be matched.”

That year, the 2012 boys track and field team won their first CCS title in the history of the program under Fung. Floreal, who also had a passion for basketball, went on to play division I basketball at the University of Kentucky. Floreal now runs unofficially without a contract at the University of Texas for his father, the head coach of track and field.

[divider]10. First game played in the Peery Center[/divider]

The final moment in our list is the grand opening of Paly’s state-of-the-art gym facility, the Peery Center, with the first game ever played on the court — a cross-town rivalry girls volleyball match between Paly and Gunn High School. With fans and community members packing the brand new bleachers, it was a game and night to remember to kick off Paly sports in our new gym.

Like most Paly-Gunn games, the atmosphere was electric, according to Paly alumna and volleyball player DeeDee Ringwalt, who played in the inaugural game. Ringwalt said it was such an honor to be part of a team to show off the glistening Peery Center.

“Playing in the new gym was incredible,” Ringwalt said. “The way the bleachers are designed created emphasis on the court and although more intimidating it made us feel that much more supported. I loved the feeling of all the fans surrounding us from above, and also to be the first team to represent the new gym to the school body made the experience extremely special.”

According to Ringwalt, while the old gym was iconic for all of the amazing players who played in it and all the special games, the new Peery Center is ready to start new Paly memories for the community.

“The old gym held many memories for me,” Ringwalt said. “It was the first time that I ever tried out for Paly volleyball and I was extremely intimidated. Jeremy Lin had played on the same court as I was playing on right now. But despite those memories, the gym was in dire need of remodeling. I will always cherish those memories but am also very grateful that the new gym is so beautiful and I got to play on it.”

Undoubtedly, this list is not the only amazing school sports moments of the decade. With such a rich history of excellence, it’s difficult to name all the incredible feats of Paly’s athletes. However, as the new decade starts, who knows what the next top 10 will be for Paly sports.

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