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Stepladder or none: Gorayeb, Lady Stags has sights on Finals return

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The NCAA Season 91 Volleyball Tournament saw the return of the Final Four format. In seasons past after a single round-robin, the top four teams moved on to another round robin with two best sqauds moving on to the best-of-three Finals. There was no incentive for undefeated teams.

The NCAA now has a similar playoffs style as the UAAP – pitting the first seed against the fourth and the second against the third with two top teams holding a twice-to-beat advantage. If a team sweeps the elimination round, they go straight to the Finals and leave the other three contenders to battle it out, stepladder style – the fourth seed faces the third seed for the right to face the second seed in a single-game elimination.

In past seasons, San Sebastian College Lady Stags Head Coach, Roger Gorayeb used the grandfathered format to his advantage, often resting players when they had already qualified for the next round or the Finals.

This season, his Lady Stags have performed beautifully despite having an unusually lineup. With reigning MVP and National Team mainstay Grethcel Soltones leading the charge, San Sebastian is undefeated heading into their final two matches of the season.

Now with a ticket straight to the Finals on the line, Gorayeb is working on keeping his girls focused on an advantage that could push them all the way to an elusive championship.

“Siyempre masaya ako para sa mga bata. Kasi kung ma-sweep namin, automatic kaming pasok sa Finals. Lahat naman ng coach gustong mag-Finals kaya kung pwedeng kami na, o sige, maraming salamat. Nakakatuwa lang talaga kasi kita naman ‘yung hirap ng mga bata. Hindi naman kami malaking team, sila (opponents) ang lalaki sa amin. Pero matagal pa, may laro pa kami,” Gorayeb said. “Hindi naman kami nagpeprepare on a per-game basis. Mahirap kasi kung bawat kalaban iba ang pageensayo namin. Basta kung anong kailangan naman ma-improve in general, ayon ang pinaghahandaan namin.”

The Lady Stags are in an unusually long, four-season title drought after copping six straight championships from 2006 to 2011. The past few champions claimed destiny over the reverred Lady Stags. Now the underdog, Gorayeb hopes his ladies can topple their heavily favored foes.

“Wala namang nakakasiguro sa mga mangyayari pero ayun naman talaga ang pinaghihirapan namin, magchampion. Kahit ano pa dadaanan namin para marating ‘yun, paghahandaan namin ng maigi.”

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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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