By Jeremy Balan
A three-year championship drought entering the year felt like ages to the Lowell High School girls volleyball program that had won 27 of the 38 Academic Athletic Association titles since the San Francisco Section began playing the sport in 1974.
But the Cardinals’ 26-6, 25-16, 17-25, 25-12 win over Washington on Thursday at Kezar Pavilion clinched their 28th AAA title and may be the first step of the new Lowell dynasty.
Lowell (24-10) has a core of underclassmen returning in key positions and figures to be a consistent power for years to come.
“That’s the plan,” said second-year Lowell head coach Steven Wesley. “But you never know. Anything can go in any direction at any time. We saw that in the third [game].”
After the top-seeded Cardinals cruised to win the first two games by large margins, they had to navigate through an unfamiliar situation.
Washington (14-5) jumped out to a 7-0 lead in the third and Lowell never got within four points of the second-seeded Eagles. It was the first game Lowell lost in any AAA match this season, breaking a streak of 41 games.
“They forgot what it meant to be pushed and they felt it there,” Wesley said. “That’s for sure.”
The Eagles kept the fourth game close and only trailed 10-9, but the Cardinals responded with a 15-3 run to end the match and clinch the title.
“I’m not upset about tonight, because they gave it everything they had,” said Washington head coach Jennifer Gee. “We told them that the team that made the most mistakes would lose and in the first two games that was us. In the third game we got better, but it came back in the fourth.”
Lowell junior middle blocker Amorelle Applin and senior outside hitter Emily Lim, who were both named first-team All-AAA in a pregame ceremony, led the Cardinals with a match-high nine kills apiece, but Lim, the team’s captain, struggled mightily in the third game and Wesley chose to sub her out.
The temporary benching paid off and Lim returned refocused in the fourth game. She had three kills in the final game and a crucial block that capped a 9-0 Lowell run.
“A lot of the game is mental and when you’re over-thinking, you do things out of character,” Wesley said. “It was just about giving her a break for a second, so she could get back to being that leader. I didn’t even need to tell her that. She did it on her own. She’s that smart.”
Applin was the most dynamic scoring threat for the Cardinals, also tallying points on a match-high five blocks.
(Slideshow photos by Devin Chen)
Washington was paced by senior middle blocker Samantha Beutler and freshman outside hitter Simone House, who finished with a team-high six kills apiece.
The Eagles remain one of the nine AAA programs that have never won a league title, but Gee, who said after the match that she will be retiring from coaching, was just happy to be in the moment. Gee estimated that Washington hasn’t been to a AAA championship game since 1989, when she was a player (detailed AAA records only go back to 2002).
“We had the opportunity to play on this stage,” Gee said. “Some people never get here, so I wanted them to enjoy it and play their hardest. I can’t be unhappy with that.”
Lowell advances to the CIF State Division I Tournament, which begins on Nov. 20, but it hasn’t had any luck against top out-of-section teams. The Cardinals have been to five state tournaments since 2003, but have never made it out of the first round.
“If we play like we did in the playoffs and in this match, except for the third game, we can run with them,” Wesley said. “The girls want it and that shows me so much already.”