GCA Eagles win middle school volleyball
Grace Christian Academy bucked the absence of head coach Cesar Libut and swept Tinian in the finals to win the 2021-2022 Boys Middle School Volleyball Championships last Saturday at the Koblerville Gymnasium.
The Eagles soared high in the best-of-three finals, winning Game 1, 21-12, before taking home the crown of the shortened two-day tournament with a 21-14 victory in the second game.
In the final set, Noah Lee gave GCA an early 4-0 lead with his excellent service game. The Stallions would rally a bit but the Eagles would continue to hold them back and had leads of 8-5 and 12-6. Tinian tried its best to force a rubber set by winning 5 of the next 7 points to make it 14-11 as GCA committed a bunch of unforced errors.
The Eagles though responded with 4 straight points as it was Tinian’s turn to fumble their chances. Joseph Pangelinan then drove the final nails on the coffin, flying high on a couple of powerful spikes to the middle of Tinian’s defense to secure the win and the championship.
In lieu of Libut, assistant coaches Leah Fabila and Stephen Balakrishna mentored the champion team on the sidelines.
“These boys are all incredibly talented. They all have the skills and they all work together. I want to thank the school and Mr. C. (Libut) as he was still able to chime in with Zoom. Every now and then he was able to call us and check,” said Favila.
Balakrishna, for his part said, he was asked to help the team at the last minute, but didn’t have second thoughts serving as assistant coach.
“I knew these kids have something special so I accepted the assistant coaching gig. We started practice early on and practiced a long time just for this two-day tournament. But I guess it all worked out well—all the practice, all the hard work we put in.”
GCA finished the elimination round with a 4-1 win-loss record. It won against Tinian, 21-16; Tanapag Middle School 1, 21-5; Dandan Middle School, 21-13; and Hopwood, 21-8. Its only setback came against Mount Carmel School, 13-21.
After the loss to MCS, Balakrishna said GCA regrouped knowing all along that they have to play their best to make the finals, where Tinian was waiting.
“We knew we were gonna go against them in the finals and we knew we had to get ready,” he said.
In the playoffs, GCA advanced to the finals after beating Saipan International School, 21-12. Tinian punched its ticket to the championship round following a 21-15 win over Hopwood Middle School 1. Earlier, SIS got the better of TMS 1, 21-16, in the quarterfinals. In the upper bracket, Tinian took out Saipan Community School, 21-15.
The Stallions finished the eliminations with a 4-1 card with wins over TMS 1, 21-17; Hopwood 2, 21-3; MCS, 21-13, and DMS, 21-19. Its only loss was the aforementioned defeat in the hands of GCA.
Aside from Pangelinan and Lee, the other members of the champion GCA Eagles are Seth Balakrishna, Ethan Quichocho, Kouki Watanabe, Brycen Raymundo, Minsu Kim, Noah Lee, Kenny Zhang, Jiahang Wu, Maximus Taitano, Justin Yao Ma, Weile Chen, and Rooney Gil.
GCA succeeded previous boys middle schools champions Hopwood 3 in 2018-2019 and TMS in 2020-2021.
The 2021-2022 Boys Middle School Volleyball Championships was organized by the Public School System Athletics Program, led athletics program director Nick Gross, and Northern Mariana Islands Volleyball Association, spearheaded by president Somia Quan.