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Lowell drops rare set, but still beats Washington in rivalry

Monika Brinlee (21) taps the ball over the net during the third set of Lowell’s victory over Washington in San Francisco, Calif. on Oct. 11, 2022. | Ethan Kassel/The Standard

Perhaps losing a set was just what the Lowell Cardinals needed.

The rival Washington Eagles beat the back-to-back defending Academic Athletic Association (AAA) champions 26-24 in the second set and led 19-17 in the third, but the rare deviation from form served as a wake-up call for the Cardinals, who went on to win 33 of the final 49 points in a four-set victory (25-14, 24-26, 25-19, 25-16), their 45th straight regular season league win.

“They realized they needed to step it up and play hard,” Lowell co-head coach Samantha Woo said of the mid-match struggles. “We can’t get too comfortable or too lazy, no matter what team we’re playing.”

Lowell (16-9, 10-0 AAA) didn’t have a tremendous size advantage over Washington (8-13, 5-5), but won with superior technique. Mika Nguyen fueled most of the Cardinals’ big runs, both as a setter and a server. She pioneered a run of six straight points during the first set, and constantly put Monika Brinlee in position for kills throughout the match.

The second set marked Washington’s first set taken from the Cardinals since Oct. 9, 2018, and it injected life into what had been a sleepy gym up until that point. The energy continued to rise throughout the third set as sophomore Ella Lally-Stephens and senior Gale Silvestro had the hosts in position to claim a second set, but Lowell won the last eight points of the frame and dominated the fourth set to quiet any hopes of an upset.

“I think having the weekend off was a little bit rough, but we got in the groove,” Woo said.

All three of Nguyen, Maria Fe Carbajal and Shanice Lam were able to generate lengthy Lowell service runs in the fourth set, which the Cardinals started with an authoritative 10-2 surge, much like the one that helped the visitors jump out to a 14-5 lead to begin the match. Washington’s strong second set, which carried over into the early portions of Set 3, was fueled by uncharacteristic Lowell service errors. Those errors vanished late in the third set, and Madeline Yang registered two of the final three kills to give the Cardinals a 2-1 lead.

Lowell hosts Immaculate Conception Academy on Friday. Washington will host Wallenberg.