By Jean Malanum

VOLLEYBALL CHAMPS. National University-Sta. Elena whoops it up during the awarding ceremony of the Spikers’ Turf Invitational Conference at Filoil EcoOil Centre in San Juan on Friday night (Dec. 15, 2023). NU-Sta. Elena defeated Cignal in the final, 22-25, 25-22, 21-25, 25-22, 15-8. (PVL photo)

MANILA – Winning the inaugural Spikers’ Turf Invitational Conference proved that National University’s (NU) volleyball program keep getting better.

NU-Sta. Elena rallied past heavily favored Cignal, 22-25, 25-22, 21-25, 25-22, 15-8 in the final at Filoil EcoOil Centre in San Juan Friday night.

“Na-maximize lang talaga kami kung anong dapat gawin sa mga ganung sitwasyon. 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 (We really maximized what to do in those situations. Good thing we survived this league. It is also important to me that we got this because it proves that the NU volleyball program is going to get better),” coach Dante Alinsunurin said after the match that lasted two hours and 25 minutes.

“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 (This is very memorable for me, as I have said, we went to the Spikers’ Turf, we had a good start but in the middle, we really struggled a bit. We were hit by injuries),” he added.

After losing to NU in the 2022 Open Conference finals, Cignal bounced back this year, winning the title via a 15-game sweep in March.

The HD Spikers were hoping for a perfect season as they topped the pool eliminations and swept the semifinal phase. But the Nationals, led by Jade Alex Disquitado and Nico Almendras, rose to the challenge.

Disquitado was named Finals Most Valuable Player (MVP) after posting a career-high 34 points, including 31 attacks.

Almendras added 20 points, 22 excellent receptions and five excellent digs, while Leo Aringo Jr. had 10 points.

“Itong Finals MVP, siguro bonus na lang ito kasi ‘yung goal talaga namin ay mag-champion. Nagpapasalamat ako kay Lord kasi binigay niya sa amin ‘yung championship at nakuha ko itong MVP (This Finals MVP is probably just a bonus because our real goal is to become champions. I thank the Lord because he gave us the championship and I got this MVP),” Disquitado, playing in his first conference, said.

The tournament MVP honors went to 6-foot-1 middle blocker Vince Himzon after leading Saints and Lattes-Letran to fourth place.

He was No. 2 in scoring in the second round with 61 points built on 48 spikes on a 56.47-percent success rate. He was also second in blocks with 12 at an average of 0.80 per set.

Others in the elite team were Letran’s Bem-Bem Bautista (Best Outside Spiker); Cignal’s John Paul Bugaoan (Best Middle Blocker), Joshua Umandal (Best Outside Spiker) and Manuel Sumanguid (Best Libero); and NU’s Joshua Retamar (Best Setter) and Leo Ordiales (Best Opposite Spiker). (PNA)