It was January 28, 2016 when the College of Saint Benilde Lady Blazers hoisted the NCAA Season 91 trophy after a gauntlet of a Final Four showing.
The Lady Blazers, then under the tutelage of Michael Cariño, navigated being a fourth seed in a stepladder Final Four, eventually beating out the thrice-to-beat San Sebastian College – Recoletos in the Finals.
Three years and a day later, the Lady Blazers were on the verge of entering the Season 94 Finals.
But destiny sided with their former head coach.
Manning the sidelines for University of Perpetual Help System DALTA, Cariño engineered another run of a lifetime, taking out the twice-to-beat, top-seeded Lady Blazers.
The Final match of the classic series saw the Lady Altas erase a 22-14 fourth-set Benilde lead to force a decider.
When the chips were down, Cariño clung to his belief of his players.
“Sabi ko sa kanila, hangga’t ‘di natatapos ang game, ‘wag tumigil sa kakalaban,” said the young mentor.
“‘Yung team ko kapag medyo nada-down, medyo nade-demoralize. So ‘yun talaga ang pinilit naming ma-develop. Sabi ko sa kanila, kailangan mental toughness, all throughout. Kailangan, ‘yan ang magpapanalo sa atin. ‘Yung tiyaga ng utak namin, ‘yung kinikilos namin, ‘yung kagustuhan naming manalo, ‘yun talaga ang nagpakita, kung bakit kami nanalo sa game ngayon.”
Cariño also knew the Lady Altas always had a chance, since he knew most of Saint Benilde’s players.
“Actually ang team na ‘yun (CSB), parang sila (UPHSD) eh. Pag nilamangan mo, diesel. Talagang pupukpok, pupukpok. Pag hinabol mo, unti-unting nade-deteriorate, hanggang sa mag-pumlakda talaga,” shared Cariño, a protege of Sammy Acaylar.
“‘Yung attitude na ganoon, nakita ko sa kanila eh. Parang, ito ‘yung nangyayari sa amin eh. Kailangan maramdaman din nila ito.”
Among his many accolades, bringing Perpetual, the school where he started his coaching career, back to the Finals gives Cariño the most pride.
“Sabi ko, noong kasi nag-post sa Facebook, nakita ‘yung mga memories. Nakita ko, sabi ko , eto ‘yung gumawa ako ng history. So ngayong araw na ito, sabi ko, gagawa rin ako ng history, ‘di ba?” he reflected.
“With them naman. Different team, pero same ‘yung path, same ‘yung nangyari. Hindi pa tapos, umabot na kami ng Finals. Mas lalo naming kakapitan, mas lalo naming titibayan kasi FInals na ‘yun eh. Ang hirap ng pinagdaanan namin. Kami praktisado kami, ‘yung kalaban namin nagpahinga ng matagal so advantage on our side.”
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