Gayle Van Meter’s Squad Won Palisades’ Only State Title in 1979
By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
Adorning the walls of the Palisades High gym are banners recognizing all of the City Section championships the Dolphins have won—over 215 since the school opened in 1961, by far the most of any City school. However, for all of its success over the years Palisades can claim only one CIF state championship and that was achieved in 1979 by the girls volleyball team under the guidance of renowned coach Gayle Van Meter.
The California Interscholastic Federation recognized its first state champion in 1978 when Bakersfield Highland beat Reedley. The next year, Palisades not only captured its sixth straight City crown (it would go on to win eight more in a row), it downed Sunnyvale of Fremont 15-6, 11-15, 16-14 in side-out scoring in the state finals match at Santa Clara University. Fremont, then a Central Section powerhouse, swept John Dunning of the San Diego Section to capture the 1980 state title.
Beginning in 1981 the state format expanded to two divisions (I and II) and in 1982 a third division was added. Ten years after that the format expanded to five divisions (I-V) and it wasn’t until 2003 that the CIF implemented a full state tournament. A sixth division (called the Open) for the highest level teams was created in 2016 but in ‘79 Palisades was the one and only state champion.
Van Meter was a member of the City’s inaugural Hall of Fame class in 2011 after having piloted the Dolphins to an astounding 17 section titles in her 22 years at Palisades (1970-91). Throughout the dynasty Van Meter had many talented teams and coached a myriad of elite players, including Vicki Lippincott, Toody Maher, Nancy Cohen, Rhonda Stoklos, Margery and Susan Schwartz and Pia Svenson, but perhaps her finest team of all was that ‘79 squad led by junior twins Louise and Karen Schwartz (both were All-City setters and Karen made the All-State team).
Karen would go on to earn All-Western Athletic Conference honors twice in four years at San Diego State, while Louise (nicknamed “Lulu”) was a three-time All-American at UC San Diego.
To honor the program’s first state championship team, then Dolphins coach Chris Forrest organized a girls volleyball reunion in December 2009—30 years after the ‘79 team’s historic accomplishment and Van Meter reunited with many of her former players as the alumnae tied the varsity.
Since 1979, the closest any Palisades team has come to winning a state championship was in 1999 when the girls basketball team lost by one point to San Jose Archbishop Mitty in the Division I state final at Arco Arena in Sacramento. In March, the girls basketball team won the Division II regional title, but two days later the state finals were canceled due to COVID-19.
Had there been a boys volleyball state tournament in 1986 the Dolphins would’ve been favored to win with a lineup featuring National High School Player of the Year Kent Steffes, Ryan O’Hara, J.B. Saunders, Adam Unger, Kevin Shepard and Chris Pennell
Not to be overlooked is Palisades’ boys tennis program, which has proven itself worthy of being the state’s best several times under Bud Kling (the Dolphins’ coach since 1979), but the sport has no state tournament, only regionals. The same can be said of Palisades’ boys golf team, which won back-to-back Southern California titles in 1971-72. The boys water polo team won the SoCal Division III regional title in 2018 but as yet there is no CIF state tournament.
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