Legend already growing

Transfer Abdullah is eager to turn talk into results for AAA contender Balboa

The hyperbole started soon after Aliyyah Abdullah arrived at Balboa High School girls’ volleyball practice this summer.

In one phone call, Academic Athletic Association commissioner Don Collins referred to Abdullah as the Buccaneers’ “great, new 6-foot-1” player. By the next week, Collins jokingly said she had grown to 6-7 and Balboa coach Val Tintiangco-Cubales had called the outside hitter “one of the best players to walk into The City in a very long time.”

And the legend of the girl from Pomona seems poised to grow even larger once AAA play starts next week, with Balboa having posted an impressive 9-4 record through a difficult nonleague schedule.

Abdullah leads team with 81 kills and 15 blocks, second in serving with 11 aces, tied for third with 45 digs.

“It’s kind of funny, but I’m glad people are talking about me,” said Abdullah, who actually checks in at 5-10. “It gives me energy and I don’t want to ever let up or let my teammates down. I want to live up to those compliments.”

Abdullah moved to The City midway through last school year from SoCal to live with her sister, Hajirah, a third-grade teacher, and the two are in daily contact with mom Sa’eeda back in Pomona.

And after some early apprehension over the brisk Bay Area weather, Aliyyah showed up to Balboa practice ready with a powerful spike, a 33-inch vertical jump and, maybe most importantly, a disarming smile and sense of humor.

“When she first came, we were all like ‘OK, I guess we’ll be friendly,’” Balboa outside hitter and senior co-captain Aimee Liwanag said with a smile. “But she started cracking jokes and making friends right away. Last year was so tense and Aliyyah brings such a calm, fun energy to the team.”

Abdullah may also add the final ingredient to a Balboa team that already seemed poised to contend for the AAA title before her arrival. Lowell has been league champion for 10 consecutive seasons, but the Bucs return first team all-leaguers Liwanag and Kristy Voluntad, along with honorable mention performers Stephanie Do and Vivian Lee.

“If Aliyyah hadn’t shown up, people would be saying ‘Watch out for Aimee’ or ‘Look out for Kristy,’” Tintiangco-Cubales said. “But if we were missing one spot, Aliyyah has come in and made it 100 times better. And she’s such a sweet, nice and humble person.”

Abdullah and Liwanag have hopes of playing college volleyball next year and, if Abdullah is able to earn a Division I scholarship, she will follow in the footsteps of two of her older brothers. Hamza Abdullah was a safety at Washington State and now plays for the Denver Broncos and Husain is now a redshirt junior safety for the Cougars.

But first, the pair are focusing on a league title and mentioned Cynthia Osorio, Beverly Chen and Melanie Galang as other players key to those hopes.

“Lowell’s been dominating for so long,” Tintiangco-Cubales said. “If there was ever a year we could do it, this is it.”

melliser@examiner.com

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