Varsity girls’ volleyball continues reign with third straight title

By Ariel Yuan

Originally published on December 12, 2014

The varsity girls’ volleyball team gathers on the court in its 25–13, 25–14, 25–10 championship victory over the Washington Eagles on Nov. 14. Photo by Lily Young

The girls’ varsity volleyball team defeated the Washington Eagles in the championship on Nov. 14, 25–13, 25–14, 25–10, earning its third consecutive Academic Athletic Association title.

“I just believed that my teammates would pull through no matter how difficult things might get in the game.”

The last time they played the Eagles was on Oct. 24, when the Cardinals beat Washington with set scores of 30–28, 25–20, and 25–13. Despite this narrow win, the team had faith that they could beat the Eagles once again. “I felt pretty confident considering it was a championship game,” junior outside hitter Janet Lao said. “I think I just believed that my teammates would pull through no matter how difficult things might get in the game.”

The team played with aggressive serves, smart offense and quick defense, but the Cardinals’ greatest strength throughout the game was their blocking. The blocks were set up by junior middle blockers Kris Hui and Celina Kong, who were last season’s outside and right-side hitters, according to Lao. “By changing their positions this year, we have strengthened our blocks and use blocking as a crucial wall of defense in our game,” Lao said. “Most of their players could barely hit the ball over the net because our blockers were doing so well in preventing the ball from reaching our side of the court.”

Junior outside hitter and middle blocker Kris Hui tries to spike the ball in the Cardinals’ win. Photo by Lily Young

The Eagles were no match for the Cardinals, who arguably played one of their best games of the season. The Cardinals dominated all three sets defensively and offensively, making sure the ball never touched the ground and placing the ball where the Eagles were not. “I think we all played very well,” senior co-captain and outside hitter Eileen Shi said. “We had energy, we killed many balls and we were all so into it! It was all so fun.”

“We had energy, we killed many balls and we were all so into it!”

The team credits much of their success to the close-knit relationships they have formed with each other over the course of the season. At the beginning of the season, it took awhile for the players to warm up to each other. “We had a lot of players from JV this year and in the beginning it was kind of awkward because not everyone was used to playing with each other, but as the season went on, we really became a family,” Shi said.

It was evident that the team’s unfamiliarity with each other had disappeared at the championship game, with players on the court gathering in a huddle after each point and the players on the bench offering words of support regardless of who received the point. “Our team wasn’t very coherent at first, but over time, our chemistry built up,” junior middle blocker Celina Kong said. “Friendships were built on and off the court, making us play together like the team we were today.”

Hui (7) prepares to bump the ball as senior defensive specialist and libero Jasmine Gomez (5) looks on. Photo by Lily Young

“It looked like college level volleyball in skill set, personalities and leadership.”

Another key aspect to the team’s success this season was each player’s determination to fill the shoes of the players who have graduated. “Last year’s juniors had a lot to prove this year, and their passion and aggression about it is what made the difference this year,” head coach Steven Wesley said. “Compared to last year, many of our current seniors had to step up to fill our old seniors’ positions and I’m so proud of them,” Kong said. “They have contributed their playing skills and their spirit. Also, their leadership helps to push us forward and make us determined to play our best in every match.”

Overall, the Cardinals’ performance against the Washington Eagles showcased the team’s transition from high school players to budding professional athletes. “I think they went from little girls to being grown women,” Wesley said. “It looked like college level volleyball in skill set, personalities and leadership. It’s almost a complete 180.”

Most Valuable Player

The Lowell has picked senior co-captain and outside hitter Eileen Shi as the Most Valuable Player. “She is a great team leader and pushes us to do our best,” Kong said. “Even when our team is down, she keeps a positive attitude.” Shi has 142 kills and a 0.233 hitting percentage, which is well above the national average of 54.8 kills and a 0.1 hitting percentage. “She never seems to lack confidence and I put a lot of my trust in her to break down the opponent’s defense,” Lao said.

Shi embraced her role as team captain, even though it was something new to her. “I’ve never been an actual leader on the team,” Shi said. “I always just played and did my own thing, so this year, my goal was to become a leader and actually help lead my team into champs.”

Although Shi plans to continue her volleyball career in college, education is her priority. “If I get into a college that’s better than whatever college I get into for volleyball, I’ll definitely choose the first one,” Shi said.