AFTER four long years, the STI College of Cagayan de Oro -- formerly known as Systems Technology Institute -- is finally back in Mindanao stage of the Philippine Collegiate Champions League (PCCL).
This, after the STI Olympians of coach Edgardo "Boy" Dacoco and team manager Mario Malferrari Jr. pulled a hair-raising 96-95 victory over Iligan Medical Center College (IMCC) of Iligan City during the HNH-PCCL qualifying tourney in Cagayan de Oro City.
The Tagoloan Community College (TCC) of coach Dave Ociones and Tagoloan sports czar Van Halen Parmis drubbed FSUU Urios University of Butuan, 83-76 to bag third place.
The return of the talented Menaling brothers, Jhunry and Jerome, in the STI frontline keyed the Olympians' successful comeback in Northern Mindanao's qualifier of the Champions League that they used to dominate since 2011.
Big man Marbel Rene Dave, forwards April Jun Pacana and John Carl Cabuga and guard Charles Blaize Babia were also instrumental in the STI Olympians' nightmarish escape off the IMCC-Iligan's clutches that catapulted them to the PCCL Mindanao Finals set to start on February 3 in Davao City.
"What a thrilling finish the Northern Mindanao championship had only been decided by one point. My salute and respect to Iligan team for putting up a good fight," said the grizzled bench tactician Dacoco, who mentored majority of PBA players from Cagayan de Oro during their high school days such as Giovanni Jalalon, Rey Nambatac, Philip Paredes and Riego "Bambam" Gamalinda.
Completing the STI Olympians cast are Ralph Michael Namocatcat, Vince Juvan Galicia, Niño Marc Arcay, Neilson Egcalinos, Grant AJ Santillan, Norhasan Abas, Nestle Jhon Ruiz, Dennis Sapa and Daniel Camarillo.
Whoever wins in the Mindanao league will be joined by the Visayas qualifiers for the PCCL Vis-Min League also to be played in Davao for the following week.
In the past, the STI Olympians made it twice to the Vis-Min Finals but they never qualified yet to the PCCL National Finals won by the Ateneo de Manila University over the University of the Visayas, 95-71 in 2019.
Coach Dacoco made special mention of seasoned guard Jhunry Menaling and his younger brother Jerome as the "heart and soul" of STI team.
"Puhon ibalik ko ra gihapon kini sila sa Manila as budding prospects for the PBA. Lipay lang pud kaayo ko kay silang tanan sa team gapangeskwela gyod. In fact, closely monitored ilang online study sa STI-Manila," said Dacoco, also acknowledging Malferarri, the deputy school administrator and sports director of STI, for his valuable support.
In 2018, the PCCL has started using a new format for its collegiate league in the hopes of giving provincial teams a better chance to win the national title.
PCCL chairman Rey Gamboa unveiled the new format that will see the UAAP and the NCAA champion face off against each other in a best-of-3 series for a spot in the finals.
The other finals spot will go to the Philippine regional champion -- the last team standing after a series of qualifying games where teams from North/Central Luzon, South Luzon, the National Capital Region, Cesafi, Visayas, and Mindanao are pitted against each other.
"The winner of the showdown between the UAAP champion and the NCAA champion, and the Philippine regional champion will compete in a one-game final," said Gamboa.