Marianas High School 1 beat Grace Christian Academy in an epic title showdown for the Public School System Boys High School Volleyball League 2021-2022 championship last Saturday at the MHS Gymnasium.
The Eagles needed to beat the Dolphins in the first game to force a do-or-die, race-to-25 set for the diadem and GCA did just that, but barely. While coach Cesar Libut and company took the first set of Game 1, 21-16, MHS 1 returned the favor with a 21-14 victory in the second set.
The Dolphins would outright win the 2022 championship if they managed to win the third set and seemed on their way when freshman Jerome Manzon tattooed the volleyball in the middle of GCA’s defenders to make it 13-11.
But the Eagles would defend like crazy and a Steven Balakrishna spike would make it 14-all. Both teams would remain deadlocked at 15-all and 16-all before Jasper Hall blocked Manzon in the net to make it 17-16. Manzon tried to redeem himself in the next play, but his wallop found the net to allow GCA to live another game.
In the deciding sudden death set, MHS 1 seemed to have put their late-game mistakes behind them and raced to an early 8-4. GCA appeared to have been stuck at 5 points forever, as Manzon had a spike party that ballooned the Dolphins’ advantage to 11-5. It would be 13-6 soon after as Manzon continued to puzzle GCA defenders.
Senior Jasper Perez would then push MHS 1 to the brink of the title with his solid service game and his soaring spike against two GCA blockers would make it 21-9. GCA would not help their cause with back-to-back reception errors to make it 24-9. Just as everyone thought the Dolphins had the championship in the bag, the Eagles had one last gasp in them and scored 6 straight points before a service error ended the game unceremoniously.
MHS 1 topped the playoffs after ambushing GCA in the winners bracket, 21-15, 10-21, 15-12. GCA then swept Mount Carmel School, 25-22, in the loser’s bracket finals to punch its ticket to the championship game.
Dolphins coach Don Cabrera said like the regular season, his team always seem to want the harder way to victory.
“I do feel like both teams were equipped and very ready today. I do feel like we could’ve won the first game but GCA fought hard and gave us a scare in that last sudden death set.
My team was able to pull it together and play their best and came away with a very comfortable victory…I told them [after the Game 1 loss] that it’s moments like these that champions are made. You have to put everything on the line and put your best foot forward and regardless of the outcome you knew you played your best and live with no regrets.”
On his strategy against GCA, Cabrera said he just focused in neutralizing their best player.
“I did notice that GCA has really one good hitter, Steven Balakrishna, so knowing that he’s very good my game plan moving forward was when he’s on the backline that we take advantage and try to score as many points before he goes back to the front and gives us scares because he’s really good at picking spots and spiking it very hard.”
He also said his lone freshman, Manzon, really stepped up in the finals as well as team captain Perez.
“The addition of Jerome has really worked wonders for us. He really diversified our attack because he’s just like Steven he can pick where he wants to go and does what he wants to do. Senior-wise, we have our captain Jasper Perez and our STUCCO president Jigger Parayaoan leaving. I’m dedicating the win to the players. I’m just here to help guide them and it’s not me that’s performing it’s them. This victory is for them and for everyone that they fought for.”
Cabrera added that winning the championship was super sweet considering that boys high school volleyball was cancelled the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Perez, for his part, credited his teammates for the championship and thanked them for winning it all as he’s about to graduate from MHS.
“I feel really great and I feel all our hard work paid off. I’m really proud of the team I played for and I’m grateful to have played with them. There were some nervous moments and we wanted to side-out as soon as possible just to get game point, but in the end they had a service error and thank God for that,” he said.
Manzon considers winning a championship in his freshmen year a great accomplishment.
“It’s a feeling I cannot describe, I felt that my grade level never really matters when playing a sport. It’s all about skills and how dedicated you are to win and the will to cooperate with your teammates. I take my role being the youngest one in the team and the only freshmen in varsity, as a role model to other young players that are around my age, as long as you work hard, push hard, dedicate, there’s nothing you can’t accomplish.”
Aside from Perez, Manzon, and Parayaoan, the rest of the MHS 1 team is made up of Erlwin Aguirre, William Arriola, Anthony Deleon Guerrero, John Justo, Lowell Lumauag, Juruel Magtalas, Dylan Mister, and Raiki Tababa.
The Public School System Boys High School Volleyball League 2021-2022 was held with help from the Northern Mariana Islands Volleyball Association.