A different playing surface could not deny Grace Christian Academy’s volleyball players from winning another championship.
GCA 2 went unbeaten in the 2020-2021 Public School System Interscholastic 4v4 Beach Volleyball League over the weekend to bag the girls high school division crown in the 12-team competition. Katriel Saures, Soleil Lamar, Hye Jin Elliot, Audrey Castro, and Vicky Wang played for GCA 2 and they clinched the title after sweeping Marianas High School 1 in Game 1 of the finals, 21-15, 21-17, last Saturday.
The championship was fourth in a row for the Eagles with the first three in indoor tournaments and the recent one at the sand court of the Fiesta Resort & Spa Saipan last weekend.
“It’s was tough for the girls playing in a sand court. But, this (volleyball) is their passion, so they just had to work harder to get the results they’re aiming for,” said GCA coach Cesar Libut moments after finishing off the No. 1 seed MHS 1.
MHS 1 entered the playoff round with a perfect 9-0 record to take the top seeding, while GCA 2 was seeded second with its 8-1 mark. Both teams drew a bye in the opening round of the playoffs last Friday and did not play their first game until last Saturday.
The Lady Dolphins were first pitted against Mt. Carmel School 1, which downed Saipan International School, 21-10. MHS 1 went on to top MCS 1, 21-6, to move to the second round against GCA 1. The Tyce Mister-coached MHS 1 also prevailed over GCA 1, 21-17, to reach the winner’s bracket semifinal round and face GCA 2.
Before meeting MHS 1 for the first finals berth, GCA 2 dominated MHS 2, 21-9, and then outclassed SIS 1, 21-10. The Lady Eagles then kept their winning ways and advanced to the championship game ahead of MHS 1 after sweeping their semis match, 21-9, 21-15.
MHS 1 after being stunned by GCA 2 dropped to the loser’s bracket and had to face Tinian High School to get a second crack at the Lady Eagles. The semis tiff in the loser’s bracket was also a best-of-three match with MHS 1 eliminating Tinian, 21-18, 21-15.
The eventual runner-up team took just a few minutes of rest after ousting Tinian and then returned to the sand court to challenge GCA 2, which held a twice-to-beat advantage in the title match because of its unbeaten record going into the finals.
The good rest before the championship game, according to Libut, definitely worked for his players.
“MHS 1 had to play two more sets before they reached the finals, so that really gave us an advantage and our players capitalized. They realized MHS 1 players are tired, so in every possession, their plan was to have their opponents run after the ball,” said Libut, adding that although they won via straight sets and were not force to play in Game 2, MHS 1 gave them a good fight.
The Lady Dolphins did threaten to extend the finale when it made one final push for a comeback in the second set. With GCA 2 just a point away from clinching the title, 20-15, Fatima Monterubio went up to the net with her spike with the ball landing on the empty backline, moving the Lady Dolphins within four, 16-20.
MHS 1 scored anew in the next possession off Aiko Rasiang’s ace, 20-17. The Lady Dolphins retained possession with Rasiang serving anew. GCA 2 managed to receive the serve and set up Hye Jin Elliot for the spike, which was then handled well by MHS 2. The Lady Dolphins then tried to counter with Madeleen Narciso setting up Monterubio, but the latter’s shot went short, ending MHS 1’s title hopes and allowing the Lady Eagles to extend their reign in the girls high school volleyball competition.