A sense of urgency for the San Sebastian Lady Stags
by rick olivares
There’s a sense that this could be the year for the San Sebastian Lady Stags. More specifically, the year when they hopefully regain the NCAA Women’s Volleyball championship. It’s a prize that has eluded them in the past five seasons and collectively, they know being the top seed doesn’t mean a thing until the last point has been scored. After all, despite looking good heading into the finals against College of Saint Benilde, they ended up being on the wrong side of history.
Following the end of this campaign, this is star spiker Grethcel Soltones’ final playing year. Her teams ended up the bridesmaid twice already. And the final act of head coach Roger Gorayeb’s storied coaching career is entering its final stages. Who knows? This could be the end right there for him after over two decades and 39 titles coaching his alma mater’s various volleyball squads. He has hinted at it several times over and his school knows of it.
There were years when the Lady Stags lorded it over the competition. That was before the other schools came up with programs and began earnestly competing. It is the same story over in the rival UAAP when the time was it was all FEU, UP, and UST. Gorayeb now knows how it feels with a stiffer challenge. “It’s good for the league and the sport,” he surmises even if comes at a cost.
The days are gone when top players would go to him. After all, San Sebastian never had any program through the decades. It was to put it in Gorayeb’s words – “good old coaching and recruiting without any real benefits other than an education”.
The other teams should get better within a year so winning this year while the Lady Stags have a veteran crew, there’s a greater urgency.
The Lady Stags know that they have been labeled in the last two years as “Soltones and no one else”. Sure there was libero Alyssa Eroa, the best in the NCAA and among the top of mind in the country. Offensively? Not much.
However, San Sebastian is leading not only because of Soltones (who is second to CSB’s Jeanette Panaga in scoring) and Eroa. Setter Vira Guillema has played much much better and is the league’s best setter at the moment. Her serves too are much better and she is one of the NCAA’s top three servers. Others who have stepped up include middle hitters Joyce Sta. Rita and Kate Villegas whose V-League experience surely has helped. Dangie Encarnacion playing the utility position has gotten more playing time.
Coming into their match against the 3-2 Perpetual Help Lady Altas last Wednesday, January 11, the Lady Stags looked to notch win #7 and forge at least a tie-for a playoff for the Final Four.
The Altas looked ready to take the first set, 21-18, when Gorayeb called time. His squad had blown hot and cold thus far. He called for consistency and making better reads and decisions on both ends of the court. With some of his former players like the visiting May Juan who know resides in Sacramento, California in attendance, the Lady Stags responded with a 4-0 burst to take the lead. Although the Lady Altas leveled matters once more at 22-all but that was all they wrote. Villegas ended the first set with an emphatic ace. The next two sets were pretty much one-sided. Even when Gorayeb emptied the bench for the third set, there was no let up as the Lady Stags won in three – 25-22, 25-13, 25-13.
“Anong nangyari,” was the only thing the Lady Altas head coach Sammy Acaylar could mutter to his girls as they approached the bench.
What happened indeed?
The Lady Stags, after a slow start, gained their rhythm with everyone stepping up to do their job on both ends of the court. Even when gangly middle hitter Iriish Oliveros scored on an awkward back row attack, the entire San Sebastian bench along with their few supporters whooped it up.
Now two more games remain in the elimination round – against Lyceum of the Philippine University and defending champion, CSB. Any talks of sweeping is not their concern. Like they all said, they’ve been here before.
“Sana (I hope),” observed Villegas upon match’s end as San Sebastian achieved the objective of play-off spot and a 7-0 slate. “Nakarating na kami rito. Hindi pa tapos ‘to. (We’ve been here before and this isn’t over).”
It would be a good send-off for Soltones who is the most high profile Lady Stag in years
as well as for Gorayeb should this be indeed his last year on the sidelines.
But for now, there are games to play.