Although not as famous as its UAAP counterpart, the NCAA Men’s Volleyball tournament has gained a reputation for legendary performances. In a league built on myth makers, College of Saint Benilde’s John Vic De Guzman stands out.
The few who witnessed De Guzman’s record-breaking 45-point performance last season still revel at the high-flying opposite hitter’s all-around skills. De Guzman’s individual brilliance translated into his team’s success, powering the Blazers to the Finals last year where he threw down with fellow NCAA legend Howard Mojica and his EAC Generals. The two exchanged highlight reel spikes and fiery stare downs.
But the Generals wound up taking the crown with the Blazers surrendering crucial endgame mistakes in a winner-take-all Game Three.
“Mahirap pa rin isipin para sa marami sa amin kasi sobrang lapit na talga naman. Sayang lang. Ang maiisip mo na lang agad ay makabawi,” De Guzman recalled.
The Blazers took the long offseason to regroup. With key players exhausting their eligibility, Benilde’s main priority was to ease their bench players’ transition into pivotal roles.
In the inaugural Spikers’ Turf Collegiate Conference, opposing teams exploited Benilde’s weaknesses but the Blazers sudden growth during a pivotal match seemed to have brought the team together. Facing their NCAA tormentors, the EAC Generals in a elimination round match, the Blazers were shoved to a similar spot they were in during the Finals just months before – down big in the fourth set with EAC threatening to end the match. But CSB refused to give way, finding a particular combination of players and riding their momentum all the way to a surprising five-set victory. Benilde Head Coach Arnold Laniog rejoiced after the said match.
“Pumunta kami dito (Spikers’ Turf) para magka-experience. Pero, sa likod ng mga isip naming, ito talaga ‘yung ginusto naming mangyari – makaharap at matalo ‘yung EAC. Kung mag-chachampion kasi kami sa NCAA, isa sila malamang sa mga kakailanganin naming talunin.”
Open hitters Racky Etrone and Isaah Arda found their groove in the said tournament and continue to be key contributors into NCAA 91. Converted setter, Mark Deximo performed valiantly in the aforementioned EAC match and has done marvelously in orchestrating the CSB offense up to now.
But arguably the biggest adjustment was De Guzman taking on team captain duties. In a sport where intangibles like mental toughness and team chemistry are often more emphasized than athleticism or skill,, De Guzman’s leadership could be the deciding factor for his team’s success more than the points he scores.
“Makikita mo talga ‘yung effort ng bata – sa loob ng court, sa labas, mula practice hanggang klase – sinasapuso niya talaga ‘yung pagiging team captain. Kung may kailangan man siyang i-adjust, siguro huwag lang niya hayaan na makaapekto sa sarili niyang laro ‘yung pagiging captain niya,” Laniog said of his ward.
“As a team captain, lahat ng responsibility na sayo – hindi lang ine-expect sayo na magpe-perform ka, pati ‘yung pagdadala mo sa team kakailanganin din hanggang sa pag-establish ng relationship with team kailangan para maging mas buo kayo sa court. Kinailangan ko talaga maging mas patient kasi before mapusok ako pagdating sa mga nangyayari sa court, kinalangan ko matutong umintindi,” De Guzman reflected.
The Blazers are entrenched in a tight race for a top-two seed with EAC and the only team to beat them so far, the UPHSD Altas. With the tournament shifting to a Final Four format and rewarding the two best teams out of the elimination round with a twice-to-beat advantage, CSB can ill afford to drop another match at their current 5-1 standing.
“Maturity na lang namin as a team ang nakikita kong kulang. Kung itatapat mo kasi kami sa ibang team, alam kong may lamang kami pagdating sa individual skills – maraming nagagawa ‘yung mga teammates ko na hindi naman kaya ng iba. Nasa sa amin na lang ‘yun kung paano naming pagsasamasamahin para manalo ng championship,” De Guzman closed.