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Happy Thursday! Benilde takes home first volleyball championship

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The College of Saint Benilde Lady Blazers will be lighting up Taft Avenue tonight.

After coming up short in the past two seasons, the Lady Blazers finally got the job done, clinching the university’s first NCAA indoor volleyball championship in a classic winner-take-all clash with the San Sebastian College of Recoletos Lady Stags 25-22, 25-23, 22-25, 25-22 at the FilOil Flying V Centre, earlier today.

Both teams heavily utilized their strengths early in the match, with San Sebastian getting contributions from the entire team, and Benilde taking advantage of their size in the middle and open hitter positions.

CSB broke the exchange in the first set, scoring four straight points that gave them a 19-16 advantage. After a timeout, the Lady Stags slowly crept back, trimming the deficit down to one, 22-23. But CSB’s middle blockers closed the set, as Jeanette Panaga banged a spike off two blockers, setting up a Ranya Musa quick play in the following point.

Unable to score off their attacks, the Lady Stags allowed Benilde to surge ahead in the second frame, 14-8. The Lady Blazers continued to get free points off San Sebastian’s miscues and grabbed a huge lead, 22-15, after a Janine Navarro cross-court stab. San Sebastian then mounted another late rally following a timeout, scoring four straight points, but Benilde quickly countered with back-to-back scores from Musa to reach set point, 24-20. Struggling to control the first ball, Benilde looked helpless as the Lady Stags dropped a 3-0 blitz, nearly forcing a deuce. Panaga, however, came to the rescue, making the best out of low set to power tip the set-clinching point.

Benilde were en route to a straight set sweep, fighting off another comeback attempt late in the third set for a 22-20 lead. But the Lady Stags foiled their championship celebration through late contributions from graduating middle blocker, Jonah Corpuz, who sparked the late 5-0 run to steal the third set.

With Benilde’s blocking and defense wearing her down, Grethcel Soltones had to be subbed out, as the Blazers took early control of the fourth frame. But, instead of laying down and giving up, the unlikely lineup of Lady Stags fought hard and even took a late lead, 20-18. But CSB immediately replied with 3-0 run. After a Soltones roll shot that kept San Sebastian in the running, 22-23, Corpuz served a wayward ball that hit the right atenna, giving CSB championship point. After a long rally, Ranya Musa found an over-dug ball and swiped it to an open area, sparking the championship celebration.

Jeanette Panaga was named Finals MVP after capping her magnificent post-season run with 16 points, including 6 blocks. Janine Navarro and Ranya Musa had 18 and 17 points apiece.

“Hindi naman talaga ‘to inexpect. Mula noong nag-semis at nasa pinakababa kami, ang nasa amin lang, one game at a time. Noong pagdating namin sa Finals saka lang namin naisip na kaya namin. Hinding-hindi namin to ibibigay,” said head coach Michael Cariño who entered Benilde two seasons ago and led then to Final Four appearances.

“Noong first season ko 8-1 kami, sunod 7-2. Kung kailan 6-3 kami saka kami nag-champion? Siguro it’s our time talaga,” Carino expressed adding that the changes to the Final Four format favored his squad.

Soltones managed 19 points, while last year’s Rookie of the Year Nikka Dalisay had 10.

This is the second time in local collegiate sport where a team with a thrice-to-beat incentive has lost in the Finals. La Salle was the first school to lose with that advantage in UAAP Season 76.

Navarro, setter Djanel Cheng, and backup setter Jane Borrero played their final match for CSB, while Jolina Labiano, Corpuz and Trisha Crisostomo exhausted their playing years for the Lady Stags.

The Scores:

CSB (3) – Navarro 18, Musa 17, Panaga 16, Cheng 6, Daguil 4, Ventura 3, Borrero 0, Santillan 0, Lim 0, Torres (L)

SSC (1) – Soltones 19, Dalisay 10, Lim 9, Corpuz 7, Sta. Rita 6, Villegas 3, Encarnacion 2, Eroa (L)

Miguel Luis Flores fell face first into sports writing in high sch9l and has never gotten up. He reluctantly stumbled into the volleyball beat when he started with Tiebreaker Times three years ago. Now, he has waded through everything volleyball - from its icky politics to the post-modern art that is Jia Morado's setting.

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