EXACTLY three years and a day ago, a little-known Macky Cariño steered a fourth-seeded College of Saint Benilde side to its first NCAA women's volleyball championship by overcoming thrice-to-beat San Sebastian College led by Grethcel Soltones in the Season 91 Finals.
Fast forward to present day, the up-and-coming coach pulled off a feat that's as improbable - but ironically at the expense of the Lady Blazers this time.
Cariño, now in his second year as University of Perpetual Help coach, led the fourth-seeded Lady Altas in defying the odds by toppling twice-to-beat top placers Lady Blazers to return to the NCAA Finals after four years.
“Alam niyo ba three years ago noong nag-champion ako, (January 28, 2016) 'yung araw na nag-champion ako,” recalled Cariño after the Lady Altas took down the Lady Blazers in five sets, 25-17, 27-29, 19-25, 26-24, 16-14, in their do-or-die Final Four duel on Tuesday at the Arena in San Juan City.
“Sa Facebook, sa Memories. Nakita ko, sabi ko, eto 'yung gumawa ako ng history.”
Reminiscent of St. Benilde’s magical run in Season 91 beating Perpetual Help and Arellano University in the semifinals stepladder before outlasting San Sebastian in the Finals, Cariño used those memories against his former team helping the Lady Altas in reaching the Finals from the fourth seed.
“So ngayong araw na ito, sabi ko, gagawa rin ako ng history, 'di ba?” He said. “With them (Perpetual) naman. Different team, pero same 'yung path, same 'yung nangyari.”
The Perpetual coach banked on the determination of the Lady Altas, who fought their way back from a 10-point deficit in the fourth set to force a decider before Cindy Imbo provided the killer blows in the fifth set.
But Cariño also used his familiarity on his former team Benilde, which he left two years ago.
“Actually ang team na 'yun, parang sila pag nilamangan mo, diesel. Talagang pupukpok, pupukpok. Pag hinabol mo, unti-unting nade-deteriorate, hanggang sa mag-pumlakda talaga,” he said. “'Yun ang nakita ko na, 'Ah, ganito na 'yung ginagalaw nito. Kailangan, mas lalo naming idiin ng idiin. Kasi lalong nararamdaman nila ang pressure.' Kasi sa amin, all or nothing na eh.”
“Wala namang mawawala sa amin. Kung ano't ano man, matalo kami, 'yun na 'yun kasi tambak kami,” he added. “Pero nangyari, nanalo kami. Ibig sabihin, nakita namin sa kanila na mas hindi naging maganda 'yung kapit nila. Kami 'yung pinakatumibay sa mga end na part.”
But for Cariño, their Cinderella story is not yet over as they battle the two-time defending champion Arellano University in a best-of-three Season 94 title that starts on Friday.
“Hindi pa tapos, umabot na kami ng Finals. Mas lalo naming kakapitan, mas lalo naming titibayan kasi Finals na 'yun eh,” he said. “Ang hirap ng pinagdaanan namin. Kami praktisado kami, 'yung kalaban namin nagpahinga ng matagal so advantage on our side.”