Jade Disquitado stole the spotlight for National U-Sta. Elena during the decisive championship match of the 2023 Spikers' Turf Invitational Conference.
The first-year Bulldog captivated the crowd with a dazzling array of attacks, guiding National U to a remarkable 22-25, 25-22, 21-25, 25-22, 15-8 victory over the previously unbeaten Cignal at the Filoil EcoOil Centre in San Juan on Friday night.
The 5-foot-11 open spiker, who had previously showcased his talent for Santa Rosa in the 2022 Open, delivered a career-high 34 points, consisting of 31 attacks, two service aces, and a block, earning him the Finals MVP award.
However, Disquitado's success was not solely his own, as he drew inspiration and support from his senior teammates throughout the intense two-hour, 13-minute battle.
Joshua Retamar and Nico Almendras, unquestionably the leaders of the Nationals, offered words of encouragement to the young player before and during the match, contributing significantly to Disquitado's outstanding performance.
"My mindset was just to trust myself and my teammates, believing that we can do it because we lost to Cignal in our first meeting in the semis. Kuya Owa and the others instilled confidence in me, and I just reciprocated that," said the 19-year-old prized rookie.
Retamar, who clinched the Best Setter award for the third time in the men's premier league, engaged in a one-on-one conversation with Disquitado, assuring him of his importance despite the newcomer's defensive shortcomings. They also put in extra work together after training sessions in preparation for the formidable HD Spikers, who entered the gold medal match with a perfect 25-0 record for the season.
"I talked to Jade earlier and told him that we know he's still weak in reception, so I told him, 'Jade, just lift the ball as high as you can, I'll do the setting for you. I know what you can do.' We did some extra work in training on things he could improve, and everything turned out well," shared Retamar, who had faced an injury earlier in the conference.
"I'm extremely proud because he's only in his first year, similar to Buddin's first year when he became MVP immediately and showed great performance. It's excellent because we still have Buddin, so there's healthy competition when it comes to the UAAP," added the captain playmaker, who had already announced his return to NU for another year in the UAAP.
Michaelo Buddin was sidelined for the entire semifinals and finals due to an ankle injury suffered in the quarterfinals, but fortunately, Disquitado stepped up. Buddin, a rookie last year, had been the Finals MVP during the Nationals' 2022 Open title, their first championship in the men's tournament organized by Sports Vision.
Almendras was also impressed by Disquitado's composure, especially in the fifth set, where the Meridian Educational Institute product contributed four crucial points in the early run that sealed the game for NU.
"Actually, Jade has immense potential, especially since he was already showing promise as a young player. Now, he's the one trusted by Owa," said Almendras, expressing his joy at seeing Disquitado demonstrate what he practices in training. "We just push him when he struggles, and we hope his confidence in playing continues to grow."