By Mike Bebernes
Experience and balance led Lincoln High School to a 3-1 victory (25-19, 24-26, 25-20, 25-17) over a talented Balboa High School team in both teams’ AAA opener on Friday.
The Mustangs (1-0) were led by standout hitter Johnson Li, who had 21 kills. Philip Xie added nine kills and Brandon Yip contributed four aces to the Lincoln cause.
“I really need [Li] to step up,” said Lincoln coach Vince Tang. “I’ve been waiting for him to have an opening game like this. Once he gets his confidence down, I know he can be a deadly weapon in this league.”
Lincoln had a solid core of experienced players at nearly every position. Balboa, on the other hand, had a number of players who, though talented, are new to the sport.
“I have some of my boys from the basketball team, but it’s their first year,” said Balboa coach Val Cubales, who coaches both sports. “They have great athleticism and height, but there are parts of the game that’s missing because they’re just not experienced.”
The Buccaneers (0-1) relied heavily on the remarkable athleticism of Jeff Ly. Though just 5 feet 4 inches tall, Ly used his exceptional leaping ability to lead Balboa with 18 kills. Ly covered every position, often transitioning from backline defender to hitter on the same play. Ly had one ace and several other serves that Lincoln had to scramble to return.
“[Ly] has been playing a long time. He’s our most experienced player,” said Cubales. “He’s awesome.”
Nick Hom buoyed the middle for the Buccaneers, with 17 kills and six blocks.
Lincoln took the first set 25-19 off of 5 kills from Li. Balboa answered back by coming back from a six-point deficit to win the second set 26-24.
Balboa ultimately fell short due to some unforced errors and poor decisions, many of which came from inexperience.
Cubales was optimistic about his team’s showing. He predicts better things to come as his players become more seasoned.
“I think as the season progresses these guys that are new are going to get better,” he said. “They’re competitive individuals.”