By Jeremy Balan
It was a balanced attack that led Lowell High School’s girls volleyball team to its first two game wins against Lincoln on Tuesday, but it was the Cardinals’ defense that slammed the door on the defending Academic Athletic Association champions.
The Cardinals limited the Mustangs to just five kills and had 24 digs in a thrilling fourth game to seal their 18-25, 25-21, 25-16, 26-24 AAA win at Lincoln High School.
Lowell (8-3, 4-0) got seven digs from senior libero Vivian Lei (who finished with a team-high 24) and six from senior Chelan McGinty, along with three key blocks from senior Reilly Fitzpatrick, to rally back from deficits of 19-14 and 24-22 in the final game.
“Our defense is our glue,” said Lowell head coach Steven Wesley. “Honestly, that’s the only thing holding us together.”
Senior middle blocker Danielle Menikheim led Lowell with eight total kills, and it was her ace that clinched the fourth game and the match.
“I don’t get set a lot, so every ball I get I want to be a kill,” Menikheim said. “It’s really important for us [to win this match], because they were really good last year, and no one expected us to be good.”
Four other Lowell players had six kills or more, with McGinty and Bailey Armstrong recording seven apiece, and Fitzpatrick and sophomore Amorelle Applin scoring six each.
“Our biggest challenge this year has been talking,” Wesley said. “They just talked, that was it. They played so well together when they talked.”
While Lowell’s attack was balanced, Lincoln’s offense primarily ran through middle blocker Cathy Cai, who had a match-high 12 kills, and outside hitter Amanda Loo, who added 11. The duo was consistent through the first three games, but only recorded a single kill each in the fourth.
As good as the Cardinals’ defense was in the fourth game, the Mustangs (2-2 in AAA) also committed 14 unforced errors that resulted in Lowell points in the final game.
“We can’t let easy stuff beat us, and if we let it beat us, we don’t deserve [to win],” said Lincoln head coach Vincent Tang. “If the girls can clean up that aspect, we put ourselves in a position to win. But we gave them so many points, it’s like they’re not earning it. We’re shooting ourselves in the foot.”
Still early in the season, the defending AAA champs now have more losses than they had in league all last year.
“We just have to learn from this loss. It’s been a couple tough weeks for us,” Tang said. “Every year is different and every team is different. We can’t think about the past. I hope this [loss] motivates us in practice.”
After missing the playoffs in 2010, the Cardinals are undefeated in early league play, tied for first place with Mission and Galileo, but a showdown with 2010 finalist Balboa on Friday will be another hurdle.
“We made a pact that we wouldn’t speak about last year,” said Wesley, who is in his first year coaching the girls varsity program, after a successful run coaching the Lowell boys team. “This year, we have some seniors that have some baggage with them and they want to get rid of it.”