The Burlingame volleyball team has just completed its most successful season in school history, winning the program’s first-ever Central Coast Section championship. Led by head coaches Nilo Mauricio and Janet Berena McDowell, the Panthers finished tied for second place in the Peninsula Athletic League’s top tier, the Bay Division, and went onto win the CCS Division III title. Key contributors for the Panthers included seniors Kyra Novitzky and Siobhan Healy, and juniors Edwena Wong, Nicole Brunicardi, Natalie Ballout, and Amber Moss.
“We did not [expect to do this well],” Ballout said. “Every year, we’ve always lost in the semifinals for CCS. Private schools weren’t in the same division as we were, so that helped us out a lot. We all got along a lot better this year, we wanted the same thing and we worked really hard for it.”
Novitzky, sophomore Caroline Smith, and Healy were the team’s kill leaders, with Novitzky leading the way with 207. That statistic is misleading, however, as Ballout missed significant time early in the season with a sprained ankle before returning and leading the team in kills per set. She was especially strong in the playoffs, recording double-digit kills in each of the Panthers’ four postseason games.
“It was the first game of the season, I sprained my ankle, and I was out for about a month,” Ballout said. “During that month I just had to sit through practices and games, and it was really hard because I just really wanted to play. When I started playing, I appreciated it more and tried my hardest because I had to make up for lost time.”
Sophomore Samantha Stewart led the team in service aces with 86 and in digs with 444, Moss paced the squad with 85 blocks, and setters Wong and Brunicardi led the way in assists.
After a daunting preseason schedule that included St. Ignatius, Sacred Heart Cathedral, and Notre Dame-Belmont, Burlingame was prepared for the always-tough Bay division. The Panthers’ biggest league wins were against Aragon and Carlmont, and they finished 10-4 in league, behind only undefeated Menlo-Atherton. In the CCS playoffs, they defeated Mills and Saratoga in straight sets before coming back from down two sets to one to beat Aptos in five sets for the section title.
“One of our best games was the CCS finals,” Ballout said. “We were all really worried, but Nicole, the backup setter, brought the team together during the game, and she lifted everyone up, and I think that game, we were playing with a purpose, and ultimately we won.”
With the win, the Panthers earned a first-round bye in the Division III state tournament. Even in their loss to Buhach Colony in the second round, the Panthers showed a lot of fight, staying in every set and rallying to win the third set after dropping the first two. They ultimately fell in four sets.
Burlingame is only graduating three seniors this year, so the Panthers are primed for a great season next year as well.
“I think a lot of people are going to improve,” Ballout said. “We’re not losing a lot of seniors, so as a team we’ll be even better.”