By Jeremy Balan
As well as Balboa High School’s girls volleyball team has played in recent weeks, Sacred Heart Cathedral showed the Buccaneers exactly why it is Northern California’s top seed in the CIF State Division III playoffs on Tuesday.
The Sacred Heart victory was never in doubt, as the Irish swept the visiting Buccaneers in a convincing 25-14, 25-9, 25-13 win.
The Irish (31-7) advance to face fifth-seeded Drake in the second round, which swept Northern Section champion Foothill on Tuesday.
“We’ve been here a lot, so I think we come into a match like this and expect to do well,” said Sacred Heart head coach Margi Beima. “A lot of it has to do with [the] belief factor and we’ve also been working really hard on executing our game and not worrying about what [other teams do].”
No game was in question and Balboa’s (21-11) only lead came after sophomore setter Maribel Matos gave the Bucs a 1-0 lead with an ace in the second game. Sacred Heart immediately responded, built an 18-8 lead, then finished the game on a 7-0 run.
The Irish again used an efficient, well-rounded attack, with setters Indira Arce and Ariana Dirige feeding nine different hitters that recorded kills. Junior outside hitter Sara Jones and freshman middle blocker Madison Murtagh paced the Irish attack with eight kills apiece. Murtagh also led an imposing front-row defense with five point-scoring blocks and the Irish had 13 as a team.
One of the few bright spots for Balboa was junior outside hitter Cynthia Ngan, who tallied a match-high nine kills, but the rest of the Balboa hitters only scored eight total.
Balboa’s defense also kept many rallies alive, but the Buccaneers rarely capitalized, as the Sacred Heart hitters simply kept attacking and eventually outlasted the Bucs.
“Two words describe Sacred Heart — steady and powerful,” said Balboa head coach Val Cubales. “They don’t make mistakes and just to be on the same court with them is such an awesome experience.”
Balboa’s season ends with the loss, but the program broke out for it’s first Academic Athletic Association title in school history and also won the school’s first state playoff game.
“All we thought about was winning a AAA championship, but now that we’ve seen we can get here, we can be better prepared for this,” Cubales said. “We have a lot of players returning and some up-and-coming [junior varsity] players, so I’m excited about the future. We’re far from done.”
With St. Ignatius falling on the road to Vista del Lago of Folsom, the Irish are the only remaining City team in the Division III tournament and Beima is confident in their ability to rise to the occasion.
“The one thing I can say about this team is that we have come to play every single time,” Beima said. “We’ve had better matches and worse matches, but overall, we’ve played at a consistently high level.”