Grace Christian Academy captured the girls high school division title in the 2018-2019 PSS Interscholastic Volleyball League after defeating Saipan International School in the finale, 25-21, 25-16, last Saturday at the Marianas High School Gymnasium.
Missing four key players who left the island on the same day the playoffs started, the Lady Eagles got a big lift from relievers Tina Choi and Mika Kimura and steady game from old reliables Jasmine Phan, Karina Dilse, Seoyeon Woo, and Clerisse Dacumos in the championship game to thwart the hard-fighting Lady Geckos.
Phan leaped for a kill to score the match point that came after several exchanges and handed GCA the crown, as SIS’ Malika Miyawaki failed to return the ball that dropped to the backline.
Phan, Dilse, and Choi alternately hit spikes for the Lady Eagles with the latter’s towering presence near the net working wonders for the eventual champion, which had a harder time getting the win in the first set before capitalizing on the exhausted SIS crew in the second set for a much easier victory.
GCA played the first set after taking a long break, as it earlier notched the first finals berth following a sweep of Mt. Carmel School in the winner’s bracket semis. The Lady Eagles also prevailed over Agape Christian School and Saipan Southern High School last Friday to advance to the semifinals. The GCA-MCS battle for the first finals seat last Saturday ended at about 11am.
SIS, on the other hand, took the court after that and dueled Saipan Southern at the loser’s bracket of the double-elimination round. SIS won over MHS in the first round of the playoffs, but fell to MCS to drop to the loser’s bracket. The Lady Geckos returned at the MHS Gymnasium last Saturday and eliminated Rota and Saipan Southern to keep their finals hopes alive. The No. 3 seed SIS went on to march into the finals and arranged a title duel against GCA after pulling off an upset over No. 2 MCS in the loser’s bracket semis.
“We knew SIS will beat MCS in the semis because they were really playing well in the playoffs, but we’re ready for them. At the start of the finals, I was just a bit worried that my players will be over confident, knowing that we’re undefeated in the playoffs. We also had a long break before the finals, so we may lose momentum, while SIS was upbeat after beating MCS. However, our players played steadier in the end, especially in the first set, as they kept their focus,” GCA coach Cesar Libut said.
GCA tried to gain more cushion in the opening set, but the persistent SIS lurked behind the Lady Eagles with the last one at the 21-20 tally. The Lady Eagles were threatened, no thanks to a miscue among their three players, as after Woo tossed the ball, neither Phan nor Dilse went for the hit.
The Lady Geckos got the possession and Sally Lai unloaded a spike, but it hit the net, giving GCA the point. Another short shot from SIS moved GCA two points away from getting the first set, but the Lady Geckos retaliated as Lai tried anew and this time was successful, 21-23. Malika Miyawaki attempted to make it two in a row, but her tap backfired and GCA went on to close the first set when Lai’s dink was blocked by the net.
In the second set, the winded SIS, which played its fourth match for the day with only a little over an hour to rest, served first and Maury Zon Tybaco’s underhand fell short. The exhausted Lady Geckos went on to commit several services errors, while a fresher GCA crew started creating distance from its foe after the standoff midway in the second send, 13-all. The Lady Eagles won the next exchange, 9-2, with the last two points off SIS’ errors and moved GCA closer to the crown, 22-15. The Lady Geckos then scored their last point on Malika Miyawaki’s kill, but made another short shot and was called for three touches after a rally, allowing GCA to knock on the Promised Land’s door, 24-16. Another exchanges of possession temporarily delayed GCA’s celebration before Dacumos set up Phan for the title-winning shot.
“Jasmine was just an amazing all-around player. I am also proud of Tina and Miku for stepping up in the playoffs. We were down with four players, but Tina and Miku, who never played as starters in the regular season, took their place and helped their teammates,” said Libut, who led GCA to a 15-1 record in the entire season.
The Lady Eagles absorbed their lone loss at the hands of Mt. Carmel and Libut was thankful for that defeat.
“It was a wake-up call for us. Even though we are leading and are favored to win, we can’t be over confident because other teams are getting better as the tournament progressed,” he said.
GCA finished the regular season with an 11-1 record to get the top seeding in the playoffs and was followed by MCS (10-2), SIS (8-4), SSHS (7-5) MHS (4-6), Kagman (3-9), and Agape (0-12). Tinian and Rota competed in the playoffs over the weekend and were automatically seeded No. 5 and 6, respectively.