Grace Christian Academy 1 completed an unprecedented fifth straight championship in the 2022 NMIVA-PSS Interscholastic Girls High School Volleyball League by beating Marianas High School 1 in the title game last Friday at the MHS Gymnasium.
The lasses of coach Cesar Libut faced their biggest challenge the past five years in the championship game, as MHS 1 led early and was 3 points from upsetting GCA 1 in the first set.
But GCA 1 rallied and managed to take the upper hand 19-18 on an error from MHS 1 power-hitter Fatima Monterubio. Monterubio would atone for her missed set later when she knotted the count at 20-all after tattooing the volleyball on GCA 1’s court. Both teams would be tied twice more before the Lady Eagles 1 took the first set, 24-22.
The second set started like the first, as MHS 1 had the early lead only to be upended by Katriel Suares’ service game. Behind their setter’s superb service, GCA 1 rattled off five straight points and led 10-7. Monterubio momentarily stopped the bleeding for coach Don Marshall Cabrera’s girls with one of her sharp spikes.
Another set and spike from Saures and Hye Jin Elliott then made it 11-8 and GCA 1 went to town after that, scoring 10 of the game’s final 12 points to win the set, 21-10, and complete yet another undefeated season to take home the high school volleyball championship trophy to Navy Hill.
In all, the Lady Eagles 1 didn’t drop a set in the first round, but the Lady Dolphins 1 gave them all they could handle not only in the finals but also in the semifinals. Led by Monterubio and other power-hitters, MHS 1 managed to extend GCA 1 to a surprising third set in the semifinals before falling. It marked the only time GCA 1 dropped a set the entire season.
MHS 1 bounced back after the semis loss, arranging its championship showdown against GCA 1 after discarding Saipan International School 1 in a one set, race to 15.
GCA 1 started its playoff campaign by beating Saipan Southern High School 2 before defeating Tinian High School 1. It then triumphed against Mt. Carmel School 1 in the quarterfinals to move to the semifinals opposite MHS 1.
Libut later admitted that this year’s championship is probably the best GCA 1 has ever won in his years coaching there.
“I think this is the best championship I’ve ever won. For one, MHS 1 is really good. There’s competition [this year]. A lot of our past championships were one-sided. We didn’t have this [kind of competition]. But against MHS 1 and in their house and all the cheering thing… it’s amazing.”
The GCA 1 coach said prior to the start of the season, he had some trepidations about leading the Lady Eagles 1 to the Promised Land.
“Sometimes it’s so tiring and the pressure of winning and winning. I asked Kat [Saures] if she’s tired of trying to prove we’re still No. 1. Kat said ‘I’m not tired of winning Mr. C.’”
Asked about his thoughts on narrowly winning the first set, Libut said he just reminded his players that they’re the league’s best team for a reason.
“I told them they have to know who they are because they’re the best team. I think the only reason they (MHS 1) scored was we put pressure on ourselves and that’s why we made those mistakes. The No. 1 thing I told them is ‘you have to know who you are and what you were able to accomplish and hold on to that. Just relax and you will win the game.’ And that’s what they did.”
He also commended MHS 1 and coach Cabrera for a well-played finals game.
“Their spikers are probably the best. But we were able to counter that. It was really tough and I was surprised with the girls. Karina (Dilse) practiced how to spike but not to receive. She stepped up and said ‘I’m gonna take this ball!’”
Libut also heaped praises on GCA for supporting the school’s volleyball program.
“I want to thank the whole GCA. When it comes to practices, boys [volleyball players] were staying after school just to practice with us. They also allowed us to practice there Saturday and even holidays. The administration really worked with us or else we wouldn’t be able to practice,” he said.
Aside from Elliott, Dilse, and Suares, who has been part of the Lady Eagles’ varsity squad since sixth grade, the rest of the GCA 1 roster includes Clerrise Dacumos, Soleil Lamar, Vicky Wang, Mint Karsuaythong, Eunice Pagaduan, and Allyssa Omampo. Of the nine, Dilse and Dacumos are graduating this school year.