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The Cinderellas of San Marcelino

Every once in a while, the world becomes witness to the great stories of success from individuals or groups that seem to come out of nowhere. Winning streaks, awards, titles—all clinched by teams that weren’t even projected to be anywhere near those accolades. In sports, there is a term to describe teams that achieved far more than what they reasonably should.


Yes, that famous character in a fairy tale who turned her fortunes around in a snap is perpetually used to talk about teams that did the same—do a 180-degree turn from the narrative they were expected to write.

This year, the UAAP became the stage for yet another surprising performance by a volleyball team from San Marcelino. Less than a month after Coach Lerma Giron led the Lady Falcons to the top of the PVL Collegiate Conference, she rose to the consciousness of the Philippine volleyball community once more. This time, she and the Adamson Baby Falcons are at the forefront of a Cinderella story brewing in the high school division of the UAAP.

The tight race to the Final Four

Looking at the results of the first round, it seemed as if three things were bound to happen after the elimination phase: a season sweep by the NU-Nazareth School, a second-place finish by UST, and a three-way race between Adamson, De La Salle-Zobel and FEU-Diliman for the last two spots of the Final Four. As such, every game of the second round meant either breaking down or breaking out of the pack for the girls of San Marcelino.

Adamson started its second-round campaign with a straight-set win over defending champions DLS-Z. The girls then followed up with another victory, this time a five-set thriller, over the University of the East. Maria Lalongisip and Kate Santiago showed up on both games as they averaged 27.5 points combined over the first two outings of the second round. With the wins, the Baby Falcons kept in step with FEU-D which also won their opening games for an identical 5-3 record. Meanwhile, DLS-Z dropped its assignments for a 3-5 card.

The Baby Falcons encountered a hitch on its campaign as they tasted their first loss of the second round at the hands of UST. Adamson folded after its gallant four-set stand to drop to 5-4, still good for a third-place tie with the Baby Tamaraws. Even in the loss, Santiago continued to shine with 16 points in the game.

Then came the time for these two Final Four-chasing teams to cross paths. With Adamson and FEU-D holding equal win-loss records, they squared off for the right to claim the solo third spot.

The two teams went out blazing to start the game. Adamson clinched the first set, while FEU-D countered with an emphatic second-set victory. The fierce battle carried over the third set that reached deuce. Led by Santiago and Ckyle Tagsip, Adamson held its own to take the third set and then carried the momentum over to the fourth to take the solo third in the rankings over their fierce rivals.

That game was the turning point of the elimination round for the Baby Falcons, as they went on to claim a spot in the Final Four after splitting their last two games against NU-Nazareth School and UPIS. They ended the double round robin phase with seven wins and fice losses.

Down goes the queen

NU-Nazareth School swept the elimination round, triggering a stepladder format for the Final Four this season. Another formidable team in UST clinched the second seed with a 10-2 record, which meant they would face the winner of the knockout game between the third and fourth seeds with a twice-to-beat advantage.

That also meant Adamson would face the last team to complete the Final Four cast this season—the defending champions De La Salle-Zobel. After faltering in the middle of the season, the Junior Lady Spikers rose up like a true champion and battled its way back to the postseason. Even with setbacks and injuries, they didn’t give up their throne easily, which made them a dangerous opponent even for the soaring Baby Falcons.

The girls stood tall at the face of the queen. Adamson ended the reign of DLS-Z in dominant fashion, taking three straight sets away from the defending champions. May Ann Nuique led the charge for Adamson with 14 points, including eight attacks and four blocks.

With the win, the Baby Falcons lived to fight another day in the tournament.

Cinderellas on the rise

After taking down the queen, Adamson had to face another formidable opponent to reach the finals—the University of Santo Tomas. Sure, they were no queens, no crowns to defend. But these girls in black and yellow were warriors, and one of the best at being such. Prior to the semifinals, they only lost two games in the elimination round, which they both suffered against NU-Nazareth School.

But the Baby Falcons were determined to soar even greater heights, and they didn’t let anything stand in their dream to reach their first UAAP finals. In their second straight do-or-die match, Adamson surged once more to defeat UST in four sets and cancel their twice-to-beat advantage.

Led by Santiago and Lalongisip, the Baby Falcons overcame a one-set deficit to win the next three in what was widely considered as an upset. Aside from the two, Raisa Ricablanca and Jen Villegas stepped up to help Adamson force a rubber match against UST.

But the Junior Tigresses weren’t just gonna crumble and lose twice without putting up a fight. After dropping the first set, UST grabbed the next two to go up 2-1 against Adamson. They needed just one more set to spoil the Baby Falcons’ Cinderella run in Season 82.

Times like this call for heroes, and Coach Lerma Giron found not just one, but four girls to save the team from losing their third straight game. Behind the efforts of Santiago, Nuique, Ricablanca and Tubu, the Baby Falcons responded with a gritty fourth-set win to send the game into a decider.

From then on, Adamson never looked back. started the fifth set on a 10-1 run to put the game out of reach for UST. The Junior Tigresses tried to answer with their own 7-1 run, but the lead was too large for them to overcome. In the end, Adamson snatched its third straight knockout victory. They clinched the remaining finals seat after that improbable postseason run.

It’s a long way to the top

The battle is not over yet. After those three grueling matches, the Baby Falcons set up a date with NU-Nazareth School. Just like in any video game, the last stage is always the hardest. This team has yet to taste defeat this year, and it’s probably on its way to a dominant, undefeated run to the title. Adamson suffered straight losses in both elimination-round games they had against the Lady Bullpups.

However, the Baby Falcons are peaking at the right time. Those three gutsy wins gave them the momentum they need to face their most difficult challenge yet in this UAAP season. Situations like this create heroes, and its time for Lalongisip, Santiago, Tagsip, Villegas, Nuique, Ricablanca, Tubu and the rest of the girls of San Marcelino to step up and be the hero their school needs.

The title is up for them to take.

The best-of-three finals series between the Adamson Baby Falcons and the NU-Nazareth School Lady Bullpups will start on Sunday, November 10 at the FilOil Flying V Centre in San Juan.

Photos courtesy of The UAAP

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