It’s rare to see teams across San Francisco’s three major leagues — the AAA, the WCAL and the Bay Counties League — meet at all outside of early-season nonleague matchups, but with so many excellent programs and the new state championship format in its second year, there’s a distinct possibility that these teams come together during the postseason.
Lincoln girls volleyball’s rise to the top of the Academic Athletic Association has been a well-documented one, with the Mustangs reaching the state championship game last year and once again tearing league competition apart in 2018. They’re not the only dominant volleyball program in San Francisco, though, and there may even be some potential all-City playoff matchups rolling around.
The last time there was a major all-San Francisco playoff game was in the 2016 state basketball tournament, where Mission beat St. Ignatius before a packed house as part of the Bears’ championship run. The last time before that? 1996, when SI basketball squared off with Balboa at Kezar Pavilion.
Lincoln is doing its usual thing with Lana Radakovic, Michelle Chong and Nicole Leo leading the way. With three league matches remaining, the Mustangs are 11-0 and have dropped just one set along the way.
In fact, Lincoln’s only loss in a full match came to WCAL regular-season champion Sacred Heart Cathedral. The Fightin’ Irish did get stopped short of a perfect league record with a five-set loss on Thursday at Valley Christian, but knocked longtime powerhouse Mitty from the pedestal with a pair of straight-set victories.
“They’ve got tremendous defense and passing,” said Tang. “They’re incredibly smooth and their pin hitters are great.”
Skylar Canady, Megan Lenn, Lauren Sera and Alden Stanley lead the way for Sacred Heart Cathedral, who will have a bye to open next week’s WCAL Tournament. They will likely also be a top seed in the CCS Open Division, which would guarantee them a state tournament berth. Depending on their performance in the section tournament, the Irish could be in Division I or as high as the Open Division, depending on how the committee evaluates them against the rest of the field.
That new format, which was inaugurated last year, had Lincoln in Division III. It would be hard to predict where the Mustangs will be this time around, so long as they make it through the section playoffs without any stunning upsets. Whether or not the committee takes last year’s successes into account will be a major factor.
There’s certainly a chance that the Irish and Mustangs meet again in the state tournament, and they could run into other City teams as well. Last year, Lowell took down University in the first round of the Division II tournament, though that match had little buzz as there was minimal time to plan for it. This year, University beat out Convent and rival Lick-Wilmerding to win the BCL West regular season title. The Red Devils went 19-10 overall against a difficult schedule, one that was full of private school powers, and their placement will be difficult to predict. Lick-Wilmerding won the league last year and was placed in Division I on the league’s strength, despite being typically placed in Division IV or V when based on enrollment.
If the stars do align, with City teams ending up in the same divisions for the state tournament, it’ll be a chance for the girls to play in front of a packed house, something to which Sacred Heart Cathedral is no stranger. Both victories over rival St. Ignatius drew huge crowds, with the Irish winning a wild five-set match at SI on Sept. 18 and taking the home leg in four sets on Oct. 4, clinching the league title. As for the Wildcats, they went 5-5 in WCAL play and tied with St. Francis for third out of six teams. While the WCAL has eight teams for boys’ sports, there are only six on the girls’ side.
Having just those six teams means even more familiarity, especially for girls that played against each other at the freshman and junior varsity levels. Those upcoming league tournaments and section playoffs will be one last chance for seniors like Lauren Sera, one of just three on the SHC roster, and SI’s Elizabeth Fleming, a Duke commit, to settle the score in longtime rivalries.