Girls’ varsity volleyball outlasts Menlo Atherton


Zach Shapiro

Pin-hitters sophomore Ella Duong, junior Morgan Toomey, junior Maddie Langilanis, as well as senior libero Mallory Novitsky prepare to receive a serve against Menlo Atherton on Sept. 8.

Michelle Moshkovoy, Sports Editor

Armed with talent and grit, varsity girls’ volleyball fought off a case of jitters to triumph over Menlo Atherton High School (MA) in their league opener on Sept. 8.

The Panthers entered their matchup on Thursday night with a stellar preseason record of 7-2. Their only two losses came from Bay Area private schools St. Ignatius and Marin Catholic, which fueled high expectations against an MA team with a record of 1-4. 

Burlingame began the first set with vigor, led by pin hitters junior Morgan Toomey, junior Maddie Langilanis and sophomore Ella Duong. 

An emphatic kill from Toomey got Burlingame on the scoreboard first. Blocks from Duong and freshman middle hitter Ava Scatena, an attack each from the three pin hitters, combined with passing and receiving errors from MA, put the Panthers up 12-4.

They couldn’t sustain that momentum, however. The Bears came clawing back at 19-17, forcing a Burlingame timeout. Immediately after, MA tallied an ace and would eventually tie it at 19-19. 

The Panthers then went on to outscore MA 5-1, finding themselves with a set point at 24-20. But again, MA did not let up. 

They outlasted all four set points to tie the game at 25-25, foreshadowing a night full of momentum swings. Scatena had a timely block at 26-25, and finally a Duong attack sealed the first set 27-25. 

“They didn’t come out performing their best and got a little frantic at the very beginning,” Burlingame head coach Nga Tran said.

The second set opened with another Toomey kill. But besides a deficit at 4-5, Burlingame led for the whole set, taking it 25-19. Langilanis in particular made a few impressive saves; at 11-10, she tipped a winner into MA’s open court. Tran also praised junior defensive specialist Tori Happ, who contributed meaningful minutes.

“Maddie was clutch in terms of her serve receive, Tori stepped in, and at the same time our go-to pin hitters, which are normally Ella, Maddie and Toomey chimed in,” Tran said. 

A rowdy student section helped during the first two sets too, yelling chants and cheering energetically. 

“God, it’s crazy. I love when they’re there,” Langilanis said. “It literally brings me up so much, like the way they scream…it creates our energy for the team.” 

About half of the students left after the second set, challenging the Panthers to generate that additional energy on their own. 

In the third set, Burlingame made more serving and receiving errors, but even with their poorer play, the game was tied at 20-20. MA then scored five straight points and won 25-20 to force a fourth set. 

“When we lost that [third] set, we started getting a little frustrated with ourselves, and we’re still learning how to pick ourselves up in those sets,” Duong said. “It’s basically trying to figure out what’s going to help us get back in our mindset and get in the right headspace.”

A Toomey attack again got the Panthers on the board in the fourth set, and began a back-and-forth for its entirety, as neither team led by more than three points. 

The momentum shifted with a forceful kill from Duong at 20-20, which invigorated the team and remaining fans. Burlingame looked to Duong again for a roll shot at 22-22 and Langilanis contributed two kills to put them up 24-23. An ace from senior libero Mallory Novitsky at last clinched the four-set thriller at 25-23. 

They seemed to have settled down, but I don’t think they ever did,” Tran said. “Which is kind of an okay thing because we were able to pull it out, even though they were playing frantically.” 

With players that play on five to six different clubs, translating reps from scrimmages and the preseason will only help the team reach its potential.

“We’ve been talking about being really gritty and really greedy, about not giving opponents unearned points and we gave a lot away,” Tran said. “It put them on the frazzled end because they weren’t performing as well as they normally would…it’ll be a lot cleaner as we go down…a lot of reinforcement so we can follow the same system.” 

Tran’s standards are high because she believes Burlingame has the potential to qualify for the Central Coast Section (CCS) Open Division. With the likes of Archbishop Mitty and St. Francis, ranked No. 3 and No. 23 in California by MaxPreps. 

“If we [stay] on the path we’re going on…we’re probably going to get thrown in there,” Tran said. “Mitty and St. Francis have taken big steps to huge improvements, so we’re gonna have to step up that big in order to do that. We’ll see how far we get within two months.”