MANILA, Philippines—Cindy Imbo refused to graduate without first reaching the finals of the NCAA women's volleyball tournament.
Perpetual Help's veteran spiker was superb on Tuesday, as she led the Lady Altas to a hard-earned victory over College of Saint Benilde in their do-or-die, final-4 game of Season 94. Imbo exploded for a career-best 32 points on 29 kills, two aces and a block, as Perpetual claimed a stunning 25-17, 27-29, 19-25, 26-24, 16-14 triumph over the top-seeded Lady Blazers.
She was at her best in the fourth and fifth sets, when she powered the Lady Altas to stirring comebacks. They were down by as many as 12 points in Set 4, before Imbo came alive with a series of hits. They then trailed 10-7 in the final set before Imbo again took over, scoring their last two points, including the ace that sealed the triumph.
"Gustong-gusto po namin talagang manalo, lalong-lalo na po 'yung mga graduating po," the soft-spoken Imbo said of the fifth set, wherein she repeatedly called for the ball even in the face of Saint Benilde's net defense.
"Graduating na nga rin po ako, kaya sobrang tinodo ko na po lahat," she added. "Kasi, gustong-gusto ko po talagang pumasok sa finals."
This is Perpetual Help's first finals appearance since Season 89, when they beat San Sebastian for the championship.
Arellano is once again the final hurdle for the Lady Altas, and Imbo is determined to give her all in the hopes of leading Perpetual Help to its first title since Season 89.
Game 1 of the best-of-3 finals between Perpetual Help and Arellano is at FilOil Flying V Centre in San Juan on Friday.
"Kung maari, mag-champion pa kami," she said.
Meanwhile, Perpetual Help coach Macky Cariño was full of praise for Imbo.
"Puso. Bilib ako kay Cindy," he said.
Cariño acknowledged that his relationship with Imbo has not exactly been smooth: "Sobrang pinagtiyagaan ko talaga."
But he never wavered in explaining to the spiker how important she was to the team. In many ways, Imbo's performances are Perpetual Help's barometer; when she's playing well, her teammates follow.
"Siya kasi 'yung sparkplug ng team," Cariño said. "Sabi namin sa kanya, every time na papangit ang laro mo, nadadamay ang team. Every time na gaganda ang laro mo, nakakahawa ka, umaangat ng umaagat ang team. Pagka gusto mong manalo, mananalo 'yung team."
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