Cotabato Spikers may have lost to Cignal in the 2023 Spikers' Turf Open Conference round-robin semifinals, but their gritty performance was enough to secure their spot in the finals. The thrilling four-set match at the Rizal Memorial Coliseum on Monday showcased the Spikers' fighting spirit and resilience, despite the odds being against them.
In the end, Cignal emerged victorious with a score of 17-25, 21-25, 25-22, 23-25. However, with Cotabato's clutch third set and a close overall tally, they still advanced to the finals due to a superior points ratio over Iloilo, which will face Imus-Ivy Tuason Photography for bronze.
The Cotabato Spikers will now have a chance to avenge their loss to Cignal, the still-undefeated HD Spikers, in a best-of-three championship series beginning on Wednesday at the same venue. While Cignal has only dropped two sets in the entire tournament, Cotabato's Jau Umandal believes that his team has what it takes to win.
"Actually, it's really possible," Umandal said, commenting on Cignal's stunning performance. "You just really need patience, perseverance, and hard work. We lacked patience in the fourth set, we rushed things, we lost our set play, so we kind of choked at the end."
Umandal, a national team player who had 20 points in the game, believes that the team's third-set win could have been the start of their upset trail, but Cignal's composure down the stretch was too much for them to handle.
In the elimination round, Cignal had emerged victorious with a straight-sets win, but that was before Cotabato had Steven Rotter on their team. During the semifinals, Rotter joined hands with Umandal to force an extension, proving that they are a force to be reckoned with.
"We had momentum from the third set until the fourth, we just made mistakes at the end, we lost our focus at the end so we kind of stopped," said Umandal.
With this four-set loss, Umandal is already looking to finally break that armor of Cignal that has yet to receive much damage this conference. Last season, it was Umandal who led PGJC-Navy to an upset win over the HD Spikers in the elimination round, Cignal's first loss in three years, before National University ended Cignal's reign in the finals.
"We really need to strengthen our service receive. No matter how hard I try, it's really not working out right now. Maybe we just need to regain our confidence to pass successfully. Confidence is important, we just really need to execute it in the actual game," said Umandal when asked about what they need to work on.
Cotabato Spikers may have lost the game, but they won the hearts of many with their never-say-die attitude. The upcoming championship series promises to be an exciting one, with Cotabato looking to claim their first Spikers' Turf Open Conference title, and Cignal aiming to maintain their unbeaten run.