By Jeremy Balan
The Lincoln High School girls volleyball team knew what was coming on the final point of their match against visiting Balboa, because it had been happening all night.
All the Mustangs had to do was stop it.
With the Bucs trailing 17-16 in the deciding fifth game, Balboa senior outside hitter Cynthia Ngan unleashed two powerful swings, but the Mustangs dug both, then countered with a kill from their own hitting standout Rianna Menikheim to seal a 13-25, 27-25, 23-25, 25-22, 18-16 Academic Athletic Association victory on Tuesday.
The digs came from Deanna Zheng and Madeleine Palega, and set up Menikheim’s team-high 20th kill of the match.
The Mustangs trailed in every game and bounced back from a 14-4 deficit to win the second, a 19-15 deficit to win the fourth and a 13-9 deficit to win the fifth.
“It was a little crazy, to be honest, especially with a young team, to come back in every [game],” said Lincoln head coach Vincent Tang. “It’s a big step for us, but we still need to clean up some things. This is what I’ve wanted to see since [non-league play].”
Menikheim, still only a sophomore, had the final strike, but Ngan was the most consistent hitting threat throughout, collecting a match-high 26 kills, but only two came in the final game.
When Ngan was on, she was dynamic. Normally right-handed, she scored two kills on left-handed attacks, and showed power and finesse at different times to get the ball to the floor.
The Bucs problems, however, started when Ngan got stuck in the back row. Every Lincoln comeback was aided by an extended run with Ngan away from the net.
“They have one of the better hitters in the league, so they’re going to give her 90 percent of the sets,” Tang said. “When she is not in the front row, the other hitters are still good, but don’t have the same impact.”
The emotional swings were what bothered Balboa head coach Val Cubales most.
“We practice hard and I expect the girls to play at a certain level, but sometimes we shut off,” Cubales said. “We’re just not consistent.”
The defending AAA champs are now winless after their first two games, but have played arguably the two best teams in the league in Lowell and Lincoln. The Mustangs, conversely, are 2-0 and sit atop the league standings.
Even though the teams are at opposite ends of the standings in the young season, both figure to be playoff squads and each coach valued the early test.
“It’s good to get these games in, so we know how we stack up,” Tang said. “They’re defending champions and they will be that until someone knocks them off, but it’s still the regular season, so we’re still working on that.”
Highlight video from our friend George Nguyen.