‘Walang imposible’: How the UPHSD ALTAS took back the NCAA Men’s Volleyball crown

Ceej Tantengco on Jan 28, 2016 11:22 AM
How the ALTAS took back the NCAA Men’s Volleyball crown
“Walang imposible sa gusto nating gawin,” ALTAS head coach Sammy Acaylar

“Never mind the individual awards. The championship is what’s important.”

Coach Sammy Acaylar gathered the University of Perpetual Help Altas before the deciding third match of the NCAA Season 91 Men’s Volleyball Finals. Their opponents Emilio Aguinaldo College Generals had a star in Howard Mojica, who had just been awarded Best Attacker, Best Scorer, Best Server and Most Valuable Player. In contrast, none of the Altas won an individual award.

“I have five reminders for you today,” said Acaylar. “God is with us, so don’t get frustrated. You are the best. You can do it. Today is our day. We are winners.” By the end of the thrilling five-set match, the Acaylar would be on the floor, wrapped in a group hug by his players—the new champions of the NCAA.

 

Dueling captains

The Altas had a clear height advantage over the Generals, with six players at over six feet tall. The most dominant presence among them: graduating team captain Bonjomar Castel.

Castel was already part of the Altas when the Las Piñas-based team began their championship-winning streak five years ago, and he was the sole veteran on the squad when the Generals broke that streak in Season 90. “Ang bigat noon,” he said. “Pakiramdam mo nasa’yo lahat ng responsibility.”

His counterpart was no stranger to the feeling. As team captain and go-to guy offensive option, Howard Mojica shouldered the heaviest burden for the Generals—a burden that had only gotten heavier since Season 90 Best Receiver Juvie Mangarin was no longer on the roster.

In a vacuum, no player in the NCAA holds a candle to the skills of Mojica. But together, the Altas’ role players were able to neutralize him in the finals’ second match. Castel rallied his teammates, asking for more: “Iisa lang si Mojica. Tayo, sama-sama.”

 

Team chemistry

The Altas’ top scorer for the first two finals matches, Rey Taneo Jr., also talked about togetherness. “Maraming gumagawa sa amin.” Taneo would score several clutch kills, followed by his trademark victory dance. (“The Taneo Wiggle!” joked anchor Andrei Felix and guest analyst Kiefer Ravena.)

On the Generals’ side, the pressure was mounting on Mojica. “Lahat sila magaling,” said EAC Lady Generals’ setter-spiker Iona Yongco, who was in the audience with their entire team. “Si Howard angat kaya siya lang napapansin. Pero kung wala ‘yung ibang teammates niya na sumusuporta sa kanya, hindi rin niya magagawa ‘yung mga nagagawa niya.” Underrated players Kerth Melliza and Israel Encina’s valiant efforts in quick attacks lightened the burden.

But throughout the match, the Altas’ morale seemed unshakeable. Even after losing the second and fourth set, teammates would look each other in the eye and tell each other to fight.

While the Generals’ huddles grew increasingly tense, the Altas were thumping their chests as the assistant coaches said: “Tuwing may haharang sa inyo, labanan niyo lang. Tibay!”

 

Well-timed coaching

Acaylar has been known to be a technical coach. Focused on perfecting the basic skills, the 20-year coaching veteran increased the team’s plyometric workouts over the holiday break. But come game time, it was his heartfelt speeches that changed the momentum for the Altas.

Down 5-11 in the fifth set, it seemed the match—and trophy—was in the bag for the Generals. Mojica, dripping with sweat, urged his teammates on: “Mananalo tayo!” Acaylar called the critical timeout.

“Walang imposible sa gusto nating gawin,” he said. “Laban! Laban lang!”

The Altas’ eyes lit up. They stomped back onto the court, brows furrowed and stances sure. They surged. They tied. They took the lead, 16-15.

Matchpoint.

Warren Catipay served. They braced themselves, but the Generals flubbed the reception. There was a split-second of surprise—“was that it?” the Altas seemed to wonder—before they erupted into celebration.

 

 

The Taneo brothers were in tears. Castel ran towards the crowd, greeting his former teammates who were with him during the four-year winning streak. The team chanted: “Coach Sammy! Coach Sammy! Coach Sammy!”

Mojica had made his series-high of 28 markers, but the Altas’ balanced scoring—Taneo Jr. and Castel had made 18 points each, while Relan Taneo and Manuel Doliente finished with 11 points apiece—“buwis-buhay” defense and unshakeable spirit lifted them higher.

The Altas didn’t have a star, but they didn’t need one. With a solid team and well-timed coaching, Acaylar was right. They were winners.

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