Hopwood Middle School 1 prevailed in a family affair after sweeping Hopwood 3, 21-13, 21-17, in the finals of the 2019-2020 Public School System Interscholastic Girls Volleyball League last Saturday at the Marianas High School Gymnasium.
Hopwood 1, which was seeded No. 4 in the 14-team field, was undefeated in the double-elimination playoffs and topped Hopwood 3 twice to clinch the middle school division championship. Mary Joy Aniana, Tinalyn Litulumar, Daejah Benavente, Gabriella Venezuela, Mikayla Arriola, Destiny Pangelinan, Ikeesha Aquininoc, Sheenah Gatdula, Martha Langu, and Regina Pangelinan played for Hopwood 1, which was coached by Esco Anne Ulloaand Ote Kesol.
Hopwood 3 and 1 first met in the semifinals of the winners bracket with the latter bouncing back from an opening set loss to steal the victory and take the first finals berth at stake in the duel. Hopwood 3 eked out a 25-22 win in the first set (should be race to 21 only, but there was miscommunication between the officials and scorers). The league then implemented the race to 21 rule in the second set, but Hopwood needed an extra point to take the victory, 22-20, and force a deciding third set, as the opposing teams went back-and-forth in that period.
The decider was another seesaw battle with Hopwood 1 coming back from a 13-14 deficit and winning the last three points to steal the first finals ticket. Hopwood 3 was a point away from reaching the title game first, 14-13, but its serve went wide, allowing Hopwood 1 to knot the count and extend the match. Aniana then scored an ace to give Hopwood 1 the lead, 15-14, and the team went on to notch the close win after Hopwood 3’s second hit from the backline was wide.
With the sorry defeat, Hopwood 3 dropped to the loser’s bracket and waited for the winner of the Grace Christian Academy 1-Dandan Middle School 1 make-or-break game. Hopwood 1 also took a breather, a longer one, as two more matches were played before the finale took place.
The GCA Lady Eagles went on to eliminate Dandan 1, 25-14, to earn the right to face Hopwood 3 for the second and last finals seat. GCA raced to a 12-2 lead against Dandan and never looked back to stay in contention for the championship game.
However, Hopwood 3 ended GCA’s finals hopes after recording a 25-16 triumph. Both the Hopwood 3-GCA and Dandan 1-GCA matches were race to 25, instead of a best-of-three set game due to time constraints.
With their season on the line, GCA and Hopwood 3 engaged in a neck-and-neck battle in the opening part of the rubber, 10-8, before the latter gained cushion, capitalizing on former’s errors to take a 20-12 lead. Hopwood 3 failed to close out the match in the ensuing play when it was called for a net violation. However, Hopwood 3 won’t be denied in its bid for a rematch with Hopwood 1, as it finally finished off GCA, 21-13, with a drop shot at the backline.
After eliminating GCA, Hopwood 3 quickly faced Hopwood 1, which needed to win only two sets (race to 21 in each set) with its unbeaten run in the playoffs to bag the division crown. A split in the first two sets would have brought the finale to a decider (race to 25) third. However, Hopwood 1 reasserted its might over Hopwood 3 to sweep the title showdown.
Hopwood 1 and 3 was breathing down on each other’s neck in the early goings of the opening set, which was tied last at 6-all. Aniana then scored on a couple of aces and the team also got several points off Hopwood 3’s wide returns for a 20-12 advantage. A serving error (stepping on the line) from Hopwood 1 kept Hopwood 3 in the game, but not for long, as in the next play the latter failed to swing the ball back to the former on the second hit.
With Hopwood 1 needing only one set to take the title, it remained aggressive in the second set. However, Hopwood 3 won’t go down without a fight and gave Hopwood 3 an even tougher time in the second set. No team led by more than 4 points in second set and Hopwood 1 was the last squad to record that advantage when Aniana ended a long rally with a spike to inch her squad closer to the championship, 20-16. Hopwood 1 served for the match point and the title, but was slapped with another serving error, giving Hopwood 3 a break. Hopwood 3 then took its turn at the service area and after a brief exchange, the team dropped the ball on the second hit, as its player was not squared off for a return near the net, allowing Hopwood 1 to wrap up the competition.
Ulloa, after ruling the middle school division, credited Hopwood 1’s regular practice sessions after school hours and familiarity with each other’s game to their triumph this season.
“They know how to work together and have lots of practice so by the time it’s our turn to play in actual games, they know what to do,” Ulloa said.