By Jeremy Balan
Balboa High School finally put an end to its dreaded championship drought on Thursday night, and they did it against the Academic Athletic Association’s best team.
With a 25-23, 25-16, 15-25, 25-15 win over Lowell at Kezar Pavilion, the Buccaneers clinched their first AAA girls volleyball title in school history and ended what was an undefeated league season for the Cardinals.
Balboa has advanced to the postseason in every year since 2004 and has reached the championship game in three of the past four years. The win also gives Balboa its first AAA title in any sport since 2009, when head coach Val Cubales led the boys volleyball team to a league championship.
“I can’t even state it in words, it’s just huge,” Cubales said. “This sport has been dominated for so long by Lowell and Lincoln, but these girls have worked so hard to get here.”
The Bucs (19-11) were led by a match-high 15 kills, including five in the final game, from junior outside hitter Cynthia Ngan, but four other hitters also tallied five kills or more.
“It feels so great. We made history,” Ngan said. “We just wanted to beat them and give it to them. I don’t even have the words. We just got it this year.”
Sophomore setter Maribel Matos orchestrated the Balboa offense, but what may have given the Bucs the biggest lift was her six kills, all coming on sets on second contact that caught the Lowell defense off-guard.
“I told Maribel that she had to be that offensive player with the offense we run,” Cubales said. “They were camping on Cynthia. With all three blockers leaning on Cynthia, we knew that was an opening.”
Balboa controlled the deciding fourth game, but it was a seesaw first game that put the Bucs up early. The opening game featured 18 ties, eight lead changes, and no team led by more than two points. Tied at 23-23, Ngan put down a kill to give the Bucs an edge, then a block from junior middle blocker Kayla Toatelegese put the game away.
“That was a big game, and that was a game we really wanted,” Cubales said. “It really set the tone for the rest of the match.”
Lowell (29-8) dominated the AAA all season and brought a 13-0 league record into the championship game, but never seemed to get in sync offensively, other than a standout third game.
“We just played tentative,” said Lowell head coach Steven Wesley. “I don’t think it had to do with relaxing or being anxious, we were just over-thinking everything and tried to be perfect.”
Still, after Balboa took a two-game lead, the Cardinals offense was on in the third game, riding five kills from senior outside hitter Chelan McGinty, who finished with a team-high 10 kills.
“We knew we still had a lot of work to do,” Wesley said. “We were still down. We had to step it up a lot more than that.”
Balboa took control again in the fourth, and after Lowell took an early 9-8 lead, the Bucs went on a 11-2, run and cruised to the win.
“We knew they would come out strong in every game. Lowell is a great-starting team,” Cubales said. “We just had to hold them and be patient. They were just awesome.”
Balboa will now enter the Division III state championship tournament as the San Francisco Section representative. The tournament begins on Nov. 22.