The Knights swept SIS, 26-24, 25-13, to finally make it to the champions circle since joining the league in 2007.
Mt. Carmel may have won the finals in straight sets, but the title was not handed on the Knights in a silver platter, as they had to survive an SIS’ furious rally in the first set to escape with the close win and then withstood the Geckos repeated comeback bids in the second to avoid the latter’s upset axe. Before meeting the third-ranked MCS, SIS came from a 25-14, 25-13 stunner over the top-seeded Grace Christian Academy last Thursday.
The Geckos then threatened another upset in the finals when they battled back from an 17-24 deficit and forced a deadlock, 24-all. The Knights moved one point away from winning the opening set after a wide return to the sideline from SIS’ Alex Park, but could not get the job done right away as the Geckos refused to give up.
SIS scored seven successive points with A.J. Hudkins making a few aces and Park scoring on drops and digs. The other points came from the Knights’ wide shots.
In danger of losing the crucial first set, MCS coach Tomoko Shimizu sued for time and it was badly needed to calm the Knights’ nerves. When the game resumed, the opposing teams traded shots with SIS’ Malika Miyawaki hitting the last, but the ball dropped past the sideline, moving MCS within a point from taking the opener. Another SIS wide shot, this time from Park’s kill, ended the Geckos’ hopes to steal the opening set and inched MCS closer to the championship.
Foiling SIS’ comeback bid late in the first set gave MCS the momentum in the opening half of the second set, as the Knights raced to an 11-4 advantage. Michael Jones and Sun Joon Tenorio got the job done for MCS in the second set, as they managed to score several points off kills and digs, while the rest of the team—Dayna Macaranas, Luisa Han, Angela Jun, and Sho Taguchi—also played steady at the backcourt to take control in the final set.
An erratic Geckos played catch up in the majority of the second set as their set plays for Clayton Izuka, Park, and Hudkins failed to work this time and defenders at the backline were a bit slow in stepping up to return those long shots from MCS.
Anticipating the ball to land again at the backline, the Geckos defense bundled up far away from the net, but Macaranas’ serve was tricky, as it first appeared to be short before the leather made it way past the net and dropped in with no SIS players in sight to return it. The ace handed MCS a 24-13 advantage and soon the Knights wrapped up the match and secured the division crown as SIS registered another error. The Geckos committed the game-ending booboo when Grace Choi attempted a set-up near the net after Jun Lee made the first stop. The ball was in the air when Choi called the play, but she slipped as she stepped forward for the set up and the ball dropped to the floor.