[nextpage title = “EAC’s Mojica”]
These NCAA Superstars are making their last run at a title.
It’s no secret. The UAAP has a huge leg up on the NCAA with media exposure.
Just because the UAAP has had more live broadcasts, and is talked about more often online, fans default to thinking the UAAP has better athletes than the NCAA.
The NCAA’s Men’s Volleyball players are aware of this notion, and it’s a chip on their shoulders. Reigning NCAA MVP, EAC’s Howard Mojica, has talked about this before and his fellow stars echo him.
For the first time in a long while, the NCAA Men’s tournament will have games broadcast live on ABS CBN Sports + Action. Tune in because this may be the last chance to watch the players who have built the NCAA’s reputation of mythic 40-point performances and heated rivalries.
Mojica has had his usual amazing season. With just a few games left in the amateurs division, the league’s top scorer looks to end his illustrious five-year stay in EAC with a championship.
“Siyempre gusto ko magchampion. Kahit sino pa makalaban namin, basta ang gusto namin mapatunayan na deserving kami.”
Mojica makes slamming volleyballs seem easy. In a league filled with high jumpers, Mojica boasts an unrivaled hang time, allowing him to adjust, make decisions, and maybe even stare down his opponents while in mid-air. Although opposing teams regularly send triple blocks his way, he finds ways over, around, or through the thicket of arms. Add to that his vicious jump serve, and Mojica often single-handedly destroys his opponents’ spirits.
The Generals earned the first seed in the Final Four for the second consecutive year, taking down the Perpetual Help Altas in a heated match.
“Puro kamay lang talaga nakikita ko kapag nasa ere na ako. Masasanay ka na rin lang. Bihira naman ako makapalo ng isa o walang nasa tapat ko kaya dinadaan ko na lang talaga sa ensayo. Puro drills ng kung anuman ‘yung ibibigay sa akin ng depensa,” Mojica shared when asked about what he sees when he jumps for an attack.
When it comes to the attention the NCAA has been gaining, Mojica just hopes the league sustains its momentum.
“Kung para sa akin lang, hindi naman nakakadagdag sa kaba ko sa paglalaro ‘yung TV. Laro lang talaga. Mas masaya ako kasi sa wakas, mabibigyan yung team ko saka ‘yung buong liga na din ng chance na mapanuod ng marami. Marami naman kasi talagang magagaling sa NCAA. Sana mga susuon na taon, mas marami pang laro ‘yung maipalabas.”
Benilde’s John Vic De Guzman is probably the most recognizable NCAA Men’s Volleyball player, having played for the National Team in the Southeast Asian Games in Singapore just last year.
Like Mojica, De Guzman has a penchant for virtuoso scoring performances, even setting the record for most points in a game last season.
This season, however, saw a different side of the usually fiery open hitter. Named the team captain, De Guzman toned down his former antics and focused on setting an example for his teammates to follow.
Still, he has maintained his offensive brilliance, only just trailing Howard Mojica in the top scorers list. If the league ever got around to measuring players’ vertical leaps, odds are De Guzman would measure off the charts.
Even with a stellar 7-2 record, De Guzman and CSB head into the Final Four at a distinct disadvantage, seeded third and having to beat the UPSHD Altas twice to reach the Finals. After coming just one match away from claiming the title last year, CSB have nothing more to aim for than their first championship.
“Kapag nakarating ka na sa Finals, wala ka naman ng iba pang pwedeng gawing goal kundi magchampion. May mga opportunity kami this season na hindi na-grab agad pero ibang usapan na ngayong Final Four,” De Guzman expressed, adding that if he wins the championship this year, he will most likely sit out his fifth playing year to focus on his studies. “Pero as long as hindi kami nagchachampion, hindi ako titigil.”
De Guzman is also happy with the increased media attention the NCAA has been getting. “Alam naman natin na kung sa media, sa fans, at sa coverage lang, mas pinaprioritize ‘yung UAAP. Kapag Finals lang talaga madalas nabrobroadcast ‘yung NCAA. Pero mabuti ngayon kasama na ‘yung semis. Hindi naman mabibigo ‘yung mga tao sa panunuod sa NCAA.”
For Perpetual’s graduating Middle Blocker, Bonjomar Castel, leaving the school that gave him so many opportunities with a championship could not mean more to him.
The burly blocking machine had been a part of the Altas’ golden years when they tore through the NCAA, winning four straight titles, with Castel playing a major role in the latter three.
Having been named team captain this season, Castel could have crumbled under the pressure of the position, given the accomplishments of previous captains. Instead, the Palawan native provided the heart and intensity his team had lacked last season and led them to an 8-1 record for the second seed.
“Sobrang proud ako na ginawa ako ni Coach Sammy (Acaylar) na team captain. Sobrang pressured din kasi ang gagaling nga noong mga past na team captains. Kinailangan ko talaga mag lead. Gusto ko rin naman ‘yung pressure. Malaking bagay sa akin na may ganoong tiwala sa akin si coach,” Castel remarked.
Castel perhaps showed his true desire to lead in their placing match against the EAC Generals. Fighting for the number one seed, Castel injured his left ankle after landing awkwardly from a block attempt. After sitting out a few minutes, Castel was raring to get back into the match. But the coaches persuaded him to rest his injury for their next match, considering they were assured of a twice-to-beat bonus.
“Gusto talaga namin manalo. Kahit sabihin pa sa akin ng mga coach na ipahinga ko na lang, sayang ‘yung laban. Kasi pride namin ‘to. Four-time champions kami sa NCAA kaya gusto namin mag number one. Wala ‘yun sa kung sina makakalaban namin sa Final Four. Pride lang talaga.”
Just one game away from the Finals, Castel acknowledges that there is no room for complacency. “Kailangan animal instinct kami sa Friday. Go for the kill.”
Tommorrow, Mojica and EAC face the fourth-seeded San Beda Red Spikers before CSB and Perpetual square off.
The public has missed the first years of their playing stints. They should not miss the chance to witness these legends in the most dramatic phase of their collegiate careers.
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