JUST before the pandemic halted the world in 2020, the men's volleyball team of Colegio de Sta. Ana de Victorias (CSAV) in Victorias City, Negros Occidental has already targeted to win the coveted crown of the Negros Occidental Private Schools Sports Cultural Educational Association (Nopsscea) led by its two promising players.

They finished with a bronze in 2019 and have promised to come back stronger the following year, but when Covid-19 hit, the dream seemed to have gone down the drain after Nopsscea suspended the games due to the pandemic.

To make matters worse, two of their team captains, both promising volleyball players, met a tragic end in the span of one month.

Mike Beronio died in December 2021, while John Lloyd Pedroso passed away in January 2022. Both were figured in a fatal motorcycle accident.

As the team mourned the sudden passing of their two key players, they have to prepare for the upcoming tournament.

Nopsscea’s indoor volleyball tournament returned in 2023 after a more than two-year hiatus.

Coach Victor "Borge" Porcel recalled the team having only little time to prepare: "They started training in January, and the games will start in February."

Aside from that, the preparation has been a challenge for the team, as nine of the 16 players reside outside of Victorias, the coach said.

He said that their training sometimes would end up at 10 p.m., and it has been a struggle for the boys to get home as there is no available transportation late at night.

"They would rent a tricycle just so they could get home around midnight," Porcel said.

But even if the odds were stacked against the team, they soldiered on.

They finished 6-0 in the elimination round, which is tied with the University of St. La Salle (USLS) men's team, making them a force to reckon with in the tournament.

USLS was the defending champion from 2018 to 2019.

Porcel said USLS gained a twice-to-beat advantage in the finals after losing to them twice in the semi-finals.

CSAV has to hurdle the University of Negros Occidental-Recoletos before setting a date with USLS in the finals.

The finals stage was set in the home court of USLS on March 19.

Porcel said the games in the finals were only set for one day.

USLS, with a twice-to-beat advantage, only has to win one game against CSAV to reign supreme.

The odds are again not in favor of CSAV, as their opponent is really a force in the court.

Porcel said they only need to win one game to force a do-or-die game in the afternoon.

He said he told his players that when it comes to skills, they are on par with their strong opponents.

He also told his players to follow the mindset of the lion as king of the jungle: "Kita makaon, indi kita magpakaon (we should be the hunter, not the hunted)."

"When we step onto the court, we should be lions," he told his players.

And his words worked, as the team won three of five sets, forcing a do-or-die game in the afternoon.

"The game started at 11 a.m. and finished at 2 p.m. We didn't really get to eat our lunch, because the second game will start in two hours, at 4 p.m.," he said.

The coach recalled that the team only rested in that little time, had a takeout lunch, and just drank a lot of sports drink.

In the second game, the team was able to win the first set, 25-21, but remained non-complacent as it could end in five sets.

The momentum continued after they won the second set, 31-29.

They finally nailed La Salle's coffin after winning the third set, 25-18.

"We were focused. We controlled our emotions until the score reached 25," Porcel said.

He also said he was down two players due to cramps and was lucky that the substitutes stepped up their game, which helped seal the deal.

The coach said that when the team is celebrating the championship on the court, they are calling the names of the two boys whose dream was to win a championship.

"They fulfilled the dreams of their dead teammates," Porcel said.