MANILA, Philippines -- On January 28, 2016, Macky Cariño reached the pinnacle of NCAA volleyball.
The youthful coach led the fourth-seeded De La Salle-College of St. Benilde (CSB) to a magical run in the NCAA Season 91 women's volleyball tournament, where they toppled University of Perpetual Help and Arellano University in the step-ladder to earn the right to face powerhouse San Sebastian College in the finals.
The Lady Stags were led then by MVP Grethcel Soltones, and were armed with a thrice-to-beat advantage as a reward for sweeping the elimination round. But Cariño's Lady Blazers did the improbable, as they outlasted San Sebastian in four games for their maiden crown.
Three years and a day later, Cariño is on his way to making history again -- this time for a different school.
Now at the helm of the Perpetual Help Lady Altas, Cariño steered his team to a spot in the finals after overcoming the top-seeded CSB Lady Blazers -- his former team -- in the Final 4. CSB was armed with a twice-to-beat edge, but Perpetual Help forced a decider then outlasted them in a thrilling five-set battle on Tuesday to vault to the championship series.
"Noong kasi nag-post sa Facebook, nakita 'yung mga memories," said the coach after the Lady Altas completed a stunning 25-17, 27-29, 19-25, 26-24, 16-14 triumph over CSB.
"Nakita ko, sabi ko (January) 29, eto 'yung gumawa ako ng history. So ngayong araw na ito, sabi ko, gagawa rin ako ng history, 'di ba?" he added.
It may be a new team, he said, but the path that they are taking are very similar.
Much like the Lady Blazers in 2016, the Lady Altas also had to go through the eye of the needle to make it to the finals. And once there, they will be the underdogs.
Perpetual Help is facing a three-peat seeking Arellano team that went 8-1 in the elimination round, then trucked San Beda University in the Final 4 to advance to the best-of-3 series.
"Mas lalo naming kakapitan, mas lalo naming titibayan kasi finals na 'yun eh," said Cariño. "Ang hirap ng pinagdaanan namin. Kami praktisado kami, 'yung kalaban namin nagpahinga ng matagal so advantage on our side."
Game 1 of the best-of-3 finals series is on Friday at the FilOil Flying V Centre in San Juan.
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