By Jeremy Balan
Records this early in the Academic Athletic Association girls volleyball season can be misleading.
Even though Galileo Academy came into its match against defending AAA champion Balboa tied for first place with an undefeated league record, the Lions hadn’t faced a team with the size, power and experience of the Buccaneers, and that became apparent quickly on Tuesday.
After letting the Lions hang around for much of the first game, the Bucs looked every bit like a AAA contender in a 25-15, 25-14, 25-15 win at Galileo.
The undersized Lions (6-5, 3-1) struggled to mount a significant attack and didn’t have an answer for Balboa standout senior outside hitter Cynthia Ngan defensively.
Ngan totaled a match-high 11 kills (equaling the team kill total for Galileo), tallied two point-scoring blocks and added an ace.
“Cynthia was going through some stuff in the first couple of weeks [of the season], but I feel she’s bounced back,” said Balboa head coach Val Cubales. “She hasn’t been the dominant player she was last year. She seemed like she wasn’t herself and I’m happy she picked up her confidence today and looked like her old self.”
The Lions were led offensively by sophomore outside hitter Vicki Vuong, who finished with a team-high four kills, but most of their production came off the arm of junior Natalie Maez.
Maez had a match-high five aces, including four in a 6-0 Galileo run in the second game, to go along with three kills. But the strong-swinging junior, like most of the Galileo hitters, struggled at the net, where they were significantly outsized by the Balboa (6-7, 2-2) front line.
“They were a little intimidated,” said first-year head coach Don Papa, who is now coaching the seventh different varsity sport of his career (he also coaches the Galileo baseball team and girls basketball team). “We’re good and we’re young — all our best players are sophomores and juniors — but you didn’t see that today.”
While Galileo started its AAA schedule with subpar opponents (they began 3-0 against International Studies Academy, San Francisco International and Jordan, all of which had yet to win a league game entering play Tuesday), the Bucs opened the season with losses to perennial playoff teams Lowell and Lincoln. Cubales feels those early tests will ultimately pay off for the rest of league play and when the playoffs roll around in November.
“When we played them, it was definitely a learning experience that we can build on when we face them again,” Cubales said. “We have a month to prepare for playoffs and that goes for everyone. You’ll find out who has made the right adjustments.”