By Bonta Hill
In a highly anticipated rematch of last season’s Academic Athletic Association championship between Lincoln and Balboa, it was the Mustangs that once again walked off the court in jubilation.
The visiting Mustangs outlasted the Buccaneers with an exciting and hard-fought 18-25, 25-23, 25-21, 27-25 victory in both teams’ AAA opener on Friday in a packed Balboa gym.
Trailing 23-19 in the fourth game, Lincoln scored eight of the next 10 points, including freshman Amanda Loo’s kill with Balboa needing just a single point to force a fifth game.
Loo would then serve up an ace to put the Mustangs ahead, and after Balboa’s return on the next point wend out of play, the Mustangs began to celebrate.
“During the timeouts, I told the team not to look at the score. If we win [or] lose, just go down fighting,” said Lincoln assistant head coach Curtis Lee, who was serving as head coach in the absence of Vincent Tang. “It was a stressful [game and] Balboa’s a very good team, but I like the way we fought tonight with two players out with injuries.”
Fighting and scraping is what Lincoln did, especially when it looked like the match was going into a fifth game.
Loo, fellow freshman Rianna Menikheim, and the Cai sisters, Cathy and Michelle, were strong all night for the Mustangs.
The sisters combined for 11 blocks and nine kills, Loo finished with four aces and six blocks, and Menikheim finished with six kills.
“The Cai sisters are really huge to our blocking scheme and the way we set up our defense,” Lee said. “Loo was actually sick tonight and Menikheim had an injured thumb, but they just kept fighting through it.”
Balboa, which was coming off of a three-game sweep of University, never faced a deficit of more than five points in the match after controlling the first game.
The Buccaneers were led by Cynthia Ngan’s 17 kills, and the solid play of libero Shayna Provochnick, but couldn’t get the critical points when they needed them.
“I felt like our execution was off a little bit, and Lincoln doesn’t make that many mistakes, and we couldn’t capitalize on big plays,” said Balboa head coach Val Cubales.
As the big home crowd left disappointed, Cubales reminded his team that it’s still a young season with much bigger games to play down the road.
“It’s the first game of the season. We have to keep our heads up because we were playing great, and we just have to learn from this and have fun,” Cubales said. “The whole league has improved, so we’ll have to take it game by game and not just worry about Lincoln. Lowell is there, Burton and Mission have improved, and Washington is still in the mix.”