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With the pride back together, San Beda set sights on Final Four

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The San Beda Red Lions don’t have to be reminded of their miserable NCAA Season 90 – they can still feel the sting of every loss.

“Masakit talagang learning experience sa amin ‘yung last year kasi wala talagang kaming pinanalo ni isa – wala kaming natalo,” Lions Head Coach Jose Roque recalled.

After a successful run to the Final Four in Season 89, San Beda were supposed to still be a threat to the championship the following season. They, however, encountered eligibility issues with the incoming group of highly-touted spikers, causing nearly their entire potential starting six to sit out the season.

After watching opposing teams plow through their comrades, the young Lions sprinted through their first matches of Season 91. On opening day, they took the defending champs, the EAC Generals, to the brink but fell in a five-set classic. After crushing their next two foes, the Bedans earned a resounding win over their tightest rivals for a last Final Four spot, the Arellano Chiefs. They then split their next two matches, a loss to last season’s finalist, the CSB Blazers, and a win against the JRU Heavy Bombers.

Team captain Alfie Mascarinas believes his team’s strength is in their familiarity. Mascarinas is a part of San Beda’s mythic recruitment class of 2014 – five boys who grew up together in Marikina, having played for the same team since elementary.

“Iba na po kasi talaga ‘yung chemistry namin. Elementary pa lang po magkakasama na kami mag laro kaya ang laking tulong noon. Pero iba pa rin po pag college pala. May kanya-kanya po kaming paghihirap sa pag-aadujust.”

Among teams currently in the Top Four, San Beda is the only squad that has five players in the Best 30 Scorers list. Leading the way is high-flying opposite hitter Mark Enciso, who regularly gives opposing open hitters fits with his power-hitting and pin-point blocking. Their setter, John Carlo Desuyo, leads the league in excellent sets while their libero, Rodel Casin, has the most excellent receptions and third-most excellent digs per set.

But with such a young team, slip-ups are a norm. In their final match of 2015, the Lions bowed to the CSJL Knights, who had won just one match before their meeting. Although the loss had been tough to swallow, Roque still has confidence that his boys can crack the final four with a 4-3 record heading into 2016.

“Hindi naman ako confident na maipagmamalaki ko sila pero may confidence ako sa kakayanan ng team ko. Skills-wise, kaya naming tapatan kahit sinong team, sa maturity na lang kami nagkukulang. May times na hindi sila nagcocommunicate, may times na may attitude sila – ‘yung mga tipong bagay na alam kong madedevelop namin the more we play and practice together,” Roque said.

With the NCAA current powerhouses set to take on a massive roster turnover after this season, the Red Lions are the best bets to take over the league, with their main rotation having three more years of eligibility after this season. Making the Final Four in their first go-around could just give them the kick they need to bring San Beda their first senior NCAA Volleyball title.

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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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