DESPITE the tough field on hand this upcoming 2019 PBA D-League season, St. Clare College Virtual Reality is beaming with optimism that it can secure its first ever semifinals berth this year.
Saints coach Jinino Manansala is confident that his side can hold their own given his team's success in the collegiate ranks.
"I like our chances to make it to the Final Four. We've joined a lot of leagues and our players have responded well to those challenges," he said.
St. Clare College has never made it past the quarters in its stints in the PBA D-League after carrying the brands of Racal, Victoria Sports and Gamboa Coffee Mix.
It has also lost a number of top guns, from Trevis Jackson, who was picked fifth by Meralco in the past PBA Draft, to Aris Dionisio and Chris Bitoon, who are now strutting their stuff with the Manila Stars in the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League.
But what fuels Manansala's confidence is how the players have performed, leading to a three-peat title reign in NAASCU for the Jay Adalem-owned campus this past year.
Irvin Palencia, Joshua Fontanilla, Junjie Hallare, Rojay Santos and Malian center Mohammed Pare have established themselves as keepers for the Saints, with the youthful bench strategist looking at these five as his main contributors for this foray.
"Their emergence can make our team competitive. We've trained them hard to prepare them for the next step which is the PBA," said Manansala, who is also expecting big things from them thanks to their previous experience in the developmental ranks.
St. Clare-Virtual Reality has its work cut out for it with a tough Aspirants Group field awaiting it this season.
Also part of the bracket are favorite Cignal-Ateneo, as well as UST, Go for Gold-CSB, Che'Lu Bar and Grill, Petron-Letran, AMA Online Education, Batangas-EAC, Family Mart-Enderun, and McDavid.
Manansala, though, believes that in the end, the Saints will find a way to be among those last teams standing.
"We're all ready. One game at a time, we'll make it," he said. "Don't count us out."