By Jeremy Balan
After an undefeated league season, Balboa High School appeared to be primed for its first Academic Athletic Association girls volleyball championship in school history.
But the Bucs will have to wait at least another year, as Lincoln defeated top-seeded Balboa decisively 25-23, 25-19, 25-16 to win its second consecutive AAA championship on Friday at Kezar Pavilion.
“It’s very hard,” said Balboa head coach Val Cubales. “It’s one of, if not the hardest working team I’ve ever had and they’ve had a great season. You just can’t have everything sometimes.”
Lincoln (21-10) lost to Balboa (21-12) in their only regular-season meeting in a five-game thriller on Nov. 2, and it was that tough loss that provided inspiration for the Mustangs.
“It’s unimaginable,” said Lincoln senior outside hitter Kelly Sung. “It was heartbreaking to losing to them during the season. I think that motivated us a lot more to beat them and win tonight.”
Sung led a dynamic Lincoln attack with with a match-high 15 kills, including seven kills in the third game. Five of those seven kills came from back-row strikes.
Balboa senior outside hitter Sophine Ngoun led the Bucs with a team-high 14 kills and Donna Liu added 10 kills, but no other Balboa player had more than a single kill. The Bucs often appeared to force the ball to Ngoun and Liu, sometimes repeatedly in individual points.
Lincoln, conversely, operated a versatile attack that featured six players with multiple kills, including 11 from Cathy Cai and seven from Brianna Caba. Cai also led an impressive Lincoln block with a match-high six blocks.
“I can’t even explain how I feel,” said Cai, who only began playing volleyball this season. “The first time we played, I didn’t do so well, but I’m not going to lie, it feels great to beat Balboa.”
The Mustangs’ attack was impressive, it was the Lincoln defense that may have been the difference, as the Mustangs extended countless plays with athletic recoveries.
“I’m really proud of our back row. There were a bunch of times when I thought a ball would hit the floor and they went up and got it,” said Lincoln assistant coach Curtis Lee. “The difference tonight was we were able to play our game. In our first [match] we were kinda conforming to how them.”
Lee served as the team’s head coach during the match, due to the suspension of head coach Vince Tang.
According to CIF-San Francisco Section Commissioner Don Collins, Tang was suspended for both of the Mustangs’ playoff wins after he self-reported that he used a player from another school in a non-league tournament earlier in the season.
“I was misinformed, but I should have handled it better, looking back on it,” Tang said. “It was just a bad decision by me.”
Tang was not allowed to be in the building for the match, but sat outside, in his car, receiving text message updates. He returned to the court to the delight of the Mustangs’ players after the match was completed.
“I’m so proud of my girls right now. After everything that happened, it shows what kind of character they have,” Tang said. “[Not being here] was probably the second-worst moment of my life, besides my coach passing away when I was playing.”