AFTER a successful 2022 campaign filled with three podium finishes, Cignal found itself in uncharted territory after finishing the first conference of the 2023 Premier Volleyball League season in the bottom four.
The HD Spikers collected only three wins and dropped five games in the 2023 All-Filipino Conference, good for a sixth-place finish - a contrast to their medal-winning performances just months ago.
And for head coach Shaq delos Santos, this is a wake-up call for Cignal.
Shaq on Cignal's sixth-place finish
"We fell short talaga, aminado kami diyan and siguro marami rin kaming mga kailangan ibalik [at] i-improve pa, so ang dami naming natutunan," he said after Cignal ended the conference on a high with a 29-27, 25-19, 25-16 victory over Army Black Mamba on Thursday .
"Wake-up call sa amin ito and lesson learned lahat kung ano yung mga nangyari and yun, usapan nga namin ng team after Holy Week dapat makabalik na kami dahil kailangan namin ng magandang foundation."
For Delos Santos, what was missing from the HD Spikers was their competitiveness to play at a higher level of volleyball - something evident from the squads that dominated Cignal all-conference long.
In their five losses, the HD Spikers absorbed straight-sets defeats at the hands of Chery Tiggo, semis-bound teams F2 Logistics, PLDT, Petro Gazz, and defending champions Creamline.
They scored sweeps against Akari and winless Lady Troopers, but had to work overtime to overcome Choco Mucho in a five-set thriller.
"Iba na yung volleyball ngayon. Iba na yung labanan. Kailangan pupunta ka rito ng ready, kundisyon ka dapat kasi kahit sabihin mong maganda yung laro mo ngayon pero yung susunod na game pwede mag-iba," he explained.
"Yung drive namin na kailangan mataas na level ng laro yun yung nawala sa amin. Kumbaga, meron kaming laro na okay tapos biglang mag-ooff na medyo hirap kami kontrolin," he added.
What Cignal can do now is just take all the learnings from this tournament in preparation for the Invitational Conference later this year, said Delos Santos.
"Kung ano naman yung pinagdaanan namin, tatanggapin lang namin at yun yung magiging inspiration namin pagpasok ng Invitationals so push talaga."