National U’s five-set reversal over fancied Cignal in the one-game face-off for the inaugural Spikers’ Turf Invitational Conference crown left many by surprise, but for coach Dante Alinsunurin, there was no sense of bewilderment, only sheer joy at overcoming the challenge.
"Na-maximize lang talaga kami kung anong dapat gawin sa mga ganung sitwasyon,” said Alinsunurin. “Mabuti naka-survive kami sa liga na ito. Importante rin sa akin na nakuha namin ito kasi ito yung nagpapatunay na ang NU volleyball program ay paangat na nang paangat.”
The success is not confined to volleyball alone. NU’s sporting program has also seen success in other fields, including basketball. But beating Cignal in a finale the HD Spikers were heavily favored to win was an achievement worth celebrating.
"Sobrang memorable ito sa akin, kasi sabi ko nga pumunta kami sa Spikers' Turf maganda yung simula namin pero kalagitnaan medyo nag-struggle talaga kami, natamaan kami ng injuries talaga," said Alinsunurin.
The young Nationals thwarted their more experienced rivals, denying Cignal’s dream of a perfect season with a display of mental toughness. They came from behind to snare a 22-25, 25-22, 21-25, 25-22, 15-8 decision at the Filoil EcoOil Centre in San Juan late Friday.
The Nationals had previously defeated the HD Spikers in the 2022 Open Conference finals. But Cignal seemed poised for a stellar season after a dominant performance in the Open Conference, which it won via a 15-game sweep last March.
The HD Spikers also lorded it over the field in pool elims play of the Invitational Conference then swept the five-team semis phase.
Despite Cignal standing a set away from a 25-game season sweep, the Nationals showed unwavering stance. Led by Jade Disquitado and Nico Almendras, they showcased endgame poise, forcing a decider and ultimately clinching the championship with formidable blocking skills.
Disquitado, playing in his first conference with the Nationals, was instrumental, exploding for a career-high 34 points and earning the Finals MVP honors. Almendras, back in harness after a rest period, contributed 20 points, 22 excellent receptions and five excellent digs, while Leo Aringo nailed the championship point with a crucial block, ending two hours and 13 minutes of top-notch volley action.
"Itong Finals MVP siguro bonus na lang ito kasi yung goal talaga namin ay mag champion talaga. Nagpapasalamat ako kay Lord kasi binigay niya sa amin yung championship at nakuha ko itong MVP," said Disquitado.
Meanwhile, Letran’s Vince Himzon earned the conference’s MVP honors after leading the Saints Spikers to a fourth place finish.
The 6-foot-1 middle blocker was second in scoring in the second round with 61 points built on 48 spikes on a 56.47-percent success rate (#1) and second in blocks with 12 at an average of 0.80 per set (#2).
The elite team included teammate Bem-Bem Bautista, who won the Best Outside Spiker award after ranking third in scoring with 58, and HD Spikers JP Bugaoan (Best Middle Blocker), Jau Umandal (Best Outside Spiker), and Manuel Sumanguid (Best Libero).
While Joshua Retamar bagged the Best Setter honors and Leo Ordiales claimed the Best Opposite Spiker award, it was evident that National U had earned everyone’s respect, setting it up as the team to watch in the coming UAAP wars.