In NCAA Season 91, the College of Saint Benilde Lady Blazers made a spirited run to hoist the women’s volleyball championship. While they clinched the fourth and last semifinal slot, Grethcel Soltones and the San Sebastian Lady Stags swept the elimination round to book an automatic slot in the Finals. This means that CSB would have to outduel two more opponents just to face SSCR for the championship.
Djanel Cheng, Jannine Navarro, Jeanette Panaga, and the rest of the Lady Blazers did not care about the unfavorable odds. They took care of the two undercards before defeating the Lady Stags thrice to win the title. Three of the six games they played during the postseason were do-or-die games including their fourth and last game versus Baste. Leading Benilde from the sidelines that year was Michael Cariño.
Three years and a day after pacing CSB to that title run, Cariño pulled another rabbit from the hat. Despite having a twice-to-beat disadvantage against his former team, the tactician willed the Perpetual Lady Altas to a gutsy five-set triumph wherein they had to overcome a 22-11 deficit to force a fifth set and bounce back from a 10-7 hole in the deciding frame. Cindy Imbo parlayed a magnificent performance with 32 points, 29 off attacks.
That’s the third straight do-or-die game that the Lady Altas played just to enter the NCAA Season 94 championship series. The Final Four upset wouldn’t have been possible if the JRU Lady Bombers defeated them during their elimination round showdown.
Then came yesterday when the Lady Altas, starting from the bottom of the Final Four, moved one victory closer to the summit of the NCAA women’s volleyball competition. After losing the first set, 21-25, Perpetual charged to take the next three sets, 25-17, 25-21, and 25-20.
Stories like these make good movie plots. But this is real life drama with the volleyball court being the proving ground. With circumstances like these, can we claim that it is the Lady Altas’ destiny to take home this crown? It’s shaping up to go that way. But still, you can never count out the defending champion Arellano Lady Chiefs. They will not go down without a fight. In fact, this bump in the road might even motivate them to come out swinging in Game 2.
Remember how they came back from their elimination round loss against the San Beda Lady Red Spikers? They dominated the same team in straight sets to enter the Finals. But if the Lady Altas still have one more trick up their sleeve, even script writers can’t formulate a narrative better than this.
But win or lose the crown, the Perpetual Lady Altas are already an inspiration for those who are fighting big challenges in life. That no obstacle is insurmountable with a no-quit attitude could be the lasting legacy of this unlikely finalist. Yet it remains to be seen whether midnight will strike for this Cinderella squad or not.