DO YOU REMEMBER... the Lady Stags’ not so perfect seasons?

Mark Escarlote on May 21, 2020 05:26 PM
DO YOU REMEMBER... the Lady Stags’ not so perfect seasons?
(Photo: Josh Albelda)

It’s not uncommon to see a team squander a huge advantage.

A defeat like that will surely sting.

But what more in a championship series and in a situation where a squad holds a thrice-to-beat advantage?

San Sebastian College found itself on the wrong side of history after its infamous collapse in the NCAA women's volleyball finals.

Twice.

Not only did Lady Stags came up short of winning the crown while holding a thrice-to-beat advantage in consecutive seasons, but in those two series the Lady Stags only won one game.

In a thrice-to-beat scenario, the team holding the advantage need only two victories to wrap the series. The disadvantaged side must win three times.

Getting in that position is not easy.

It means, a team must sweep the elimination round. And if you did brush off all your rivals that would mean you're the dominant team.

Easily, the title favorite

According to the NCAA Season 91 and 92 rules, the sweeping team gets an outright Finals seat armed with a twice-to-win advantage. A 1-0 lead in a virtual best-of-five series.

The rest will have to duke it out in a stepladder semifinals to earn a championship seat.

The unbeaten team will have fresh legs as it gets enough rest while waiting for its Finals opponent. For the other team, it means more games and no time for rest plus the possibility of wear and tear.

The odds were stacked in favor of the Lady Stags.

Or so they thought.

SSC-R was a force to be reckoned with in those two seasons.

Leading the Lady Stags was power-hitter and bulk-scorer Grethcel Soltones. She had a solid supporting cast in Nikka Dalisay, Jolina Labiano, Dangie Encarnacion, Kat Villegas, setter Vira Guillema and libero Alyssa Eroa under multi-title head coach and NCAA legend Roger Gorayeb.

In Season 91, SSC-R fielded a well-experienced roster which came from two unsuccessful championship trips in the previous three years.

The Lady Stags crushed all of their nine competitions in the elims including the CJ Rosario, Jovielyn Prado and Dana Henson-bannered Arellano U, which the year before beat SSC-R for the title.

SSC-R completed its elims sweep after beating College of St. Benilde in four sets and got a nine-day rest.

The Lady Blazers took the long route to secure a Finals seat, beating University of Perpetual Help in first stepladder semis before dethroning the Lady Chiefs.

The Lady Stags came in the Finals brimming with confidence as they faced the same squad they defeated before their break.

SSC-R barely escaped a tightly-contested extended first set but the Lady Stags unraveled in the next three frames.

CSB coach Macky Carino knew that SSC-R will live and die with Soltones so he sent his best net defenders Jeanette Panaga, Janine Navarro and Ranya Musa to clog the net. SSC-R was also plagued with errors and miscues in their reception.

The second game followed the same pattern with only Soltones scoring in double figures and the Lady Stags finding themselves on the brink of collapse.

Soltones, upon receiving her second straight Most Valuable Player award, saved SSC-R from total collapse as she scored 31 points in a four-set escape in Game Three.

But it all just delayed the inevitable doom that would befall the Lady Stags.

In the series decider, CSB showed no signs of fear as it already faced two do-or-die matches before.

SSC-R crumbled in the first two sets, showed life in the third before eventually yielding as the Lady Blazers claimed a historic breakthrough title in vanquishing a more seasoned rival.

It was the same nightmare that the Lady Stags encountered the following season.

Again, Soltones rallied SSC-R back to the Finals outright on her swan song. Once again with a thrice-to-beat advantage.

Arellano U, on the other hand, got its revenge over CSB in the last stepladder match to book a championship showdown against the Lady Stags.

The Lady Chiefs, behind Andrea Marzan, Regine Arocha and Mary Anne Esguerra, stunned SSC-R in straight sets in the series opener.

It was Rialen Sante and Prado who did most of the damage in Game 2 as Arellano U beat the Lady Stags in a come-from-behind five-setter.

And on Valentine’s Day 2017, SSC-R absorbed another humiliating defeat.

Thrice-to-beat. Thrice beaten.       

Soltones closed her NCAA career as a three-time MVP and one of the most decorated players in the league.

But she will always be haunted by the ghost of her past. A legacy stained by the misfortune of leading a team found wanting in titles.

The Lady Stags since then failed to recover their lost glory as they bowed out of the final four the following year for the first time in decades. SSC-R followed the same dark path the year after.

 

 

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