By Matthew Snyder
Lowell High School’s girls volleyball team exacted a measure of revenge for its loss to Balboa in last season’s Academic Athletic Association championship game, sweeping the visiting Bucs with a resounding 25-10, 25-21, 25-12 semifinal victory on Tuesday.
Outside hitter Emily Lim, one of six seniors honored before the game, agreed with her head coach Steven Wesley, that this was one of the best matches the Cardinals played in years.
“[The win] felt really good, like everyone did their part and came together as a team,” Lim said. “It means everything to me. For the past three years, varsity hasn’t won [the AAA championship] and I feel like we’re on our way. I really hope we win on Thursday.”
Wesley echoed Lim’s sentiment, that this senior class has unfinished business. Lowell has won 27 AAA championships, a San Francisco Section record, but the current group of seniors has never tasted a championship in its three years of play.
“It does mean a lot to the seniors. It does – big-time,” Wesley said. “Most of them were here last year. We had an undefeated season last year and then we go to [the championship game], and we lose it. They felt it and they had some pretty big shoes to fill.”
Lim led the Cardinals’ offensive attack with seven kills, followed closely by talented junior Amorelle Applin, who added six. Lowell senior Karin Yamazaki also had six kills.
Lowell sophomore outside hitter Eileen Shi led all players with seven aces. Despite playing on the varsity team for less than a season, Shi leads the team with 75 aces and is third in kills (119).
“She’s a force to be reckoned with,” Wesley said of Shi. “She’s part of the future of this program. It’s something to look forward to these next few years, and for sure, she’s definitely someone to watch out for.”
Shi, who also finished with four kills, faulted on the game’s opening serve, but from then on she was unstoppable. Her jump-serve frequently gave the Bucs fits, prompting Balboa head coach Val Cubales to use substitutions to try and break up her rhythm.
After breezing through the first game, the top-seeded Cardinals found themselves down early in the second (their biggest deficit was 15-10).
Shi helped lead the fight back with a medley of serves and aces, and Lowell reeled off an 11-3 run to take the game and command of the match.
“We focused up, and just kept pushing and fighting,” Shi said.
Cubales rued his team’s inability to pass effectively in the game, which led to a number of errors.
“We’ve been really inconsistent this whole year,” Cubales said. “We’ve blown leads, so I wasn’t even comfortable in the second [game] with a four-point lead, or even when [the lead] was at two . . . [Lowell] just kept getting closer. I felt like they had a few more weapons than us.”
Balboa senior outside hitter Cynthia Ngan, who was a driving force in Balboa’s first AAA title in school history as well as it’s first state tournament win last season, ended her illustrious high-school career with seven kills.
“She’s amazing,” Cubales said. “I couldn’t say anything bad about her, she just works really hard. She’s been our captain, she’s been our leader, so I just wish the best for her.”