With championships in baseball, softball, wrestling, girls' basketball and girls' volleyball, Lowell High School has asserted itself as the school to beat in the Academic Athletic Association-San Francisco Section.
It was no different in the AAA boys' volleyball championship Thursday at O'Connell High School, where the Cardinals defeated rival Washington 25-10, 25-18, 27-29, 25-18 to finishing unbeaten against AAA opponents and lock up their third straight AAA title.
It is Lowell's league-leading ninth boys' volleyball championship -- breaking a tie with Lincoln -- and the second three-peat in school history.
"The season has been a struggle actually," Lowell coach Steven Wesley said. "The struggle was mental, keeping them sound and grounded the entire [season]. They rose to the challenge, and did it, so I can't complain."
Lowell (24-4) thought it won the championship in the third set. Leading 24-22, the Cardinals celebrated what appeared to be a championship point, but the officials huddled and ruled that Lowell interfered with the net, giving the point to Washington instead.
Washington stole the momentum with three consecutive points and eventually the set, 29-27.
Between the third and fourth set, Wesley told his team to relax and reset their minds.
"I told the team, 'You know what, in a split-second, the game can change, and that's pretty much what happened,'" Wesley said. "We celebrated a little too early. We had to start over."
The talk worked.
Lowell raced out to an 8-3 lead in the fourth set, and when Washington cut it to 11-7 on Brandon Nguyen's ace, the Cardinals had an answer.
Lowell scored nine of the next 12 points, capped by senior Cardillo Walter's kill, to take a commanding 23-12 lead.
After one last-ditch rally by Washington, which saw the Eagle score six straight to get within five (23-18), the Cardinals scored the next two, with a Walter kill gave Lowell the set and the championship.
"I couldn't really ask for more," Washington coach Kimberly Tang said. "We're skilled, but it comes down to the mental game. We weren't intimidated because of their streak, we just looked at [Lowell] as any other team, and we did pretty good. I'm proud of our effort."
With the win, Lowell automatically qualifies for the CIF Northern California playoffs, where the Cardinals are expecting a high seed. But in the meantime, they'll enjoy the latest round of AAA bragging rights they earned.
"Washington is a fighter and I knew it wasn't going to be easy, and they didn't make it easy whatsoever," Wesley said. "We had to work for it, but we did it."