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IN A jam-packed St. John’s gymnasium, the Okkodo Bulldogs and George Washington Geckos showed up for one last meeting to determine who will be the 2012 IIAAG High School Boys’ Volleyball League champions.
The Bulldogs were looking to dethrone the defending champion, however, they needed to defeat the Geckos twice in the double elimination format. Prior to the match, the Geckos haven’t dropped a single set all season long.
The Bulldogs came to play and proved to everyone in attendance that they still had a shot at being crowned champions. Okkodo dealt the Geckos their first loss of the season (25-22, 21-25, 25-23) and forced an “if” game. However, after a 30-minute break, both teams returned to action for the deciding match. After regrouping and returning to the court, the defending champions garnered their second straight title after dispensing the Bulldogs in straight sets 25-16, 25-21.
“We knew that Okkodo was going to show up and play tough, we couldn’t take anything away from them,” said GW senior Lester Mariano. “During that break, we just had a talk and knew that we could still come out victorious, but we needed to limit our mistakes and continue to play strong.”
In the early moments of the opening set, both teams came out trading blows with one another. With the score tied at 2-2, Okkodo ran into some trouble and committed back-to-back errors to give the Geckos the lead. However, league co-MVP Maks Kepwe blasted two straight kills down the middle to knot the game at 4-4. Neither team was willing to give up points and fall behind deep.
After calling an early timeout, the defending champions returned to the floor playing with fire in their eyes. An Anthony Blaz kill gave the Bulldogs an 8-7 lead. However, that was temporary as the Geckos scored eight unanswered points to take a 15-8 lead. The trio of Devin Maluwelmeng, Mariano, and Kevin Aguigui combined for five kills in the run.
The Bulldogs remained calm and fought their way back to trim their deficit to 17-13 as Kepwe and teammate Aaron Blaz were able to get hits through the purple and gold wall. GW would make the Bulldogs’ comeback attempt short-lived as they turned on the heat offensively and closed out the set going on an 8-3 run. Mariano and Maluwelmeng added two more kills apiece in the set-ending surge.
“Remaining calm and focus was what got us back to being the team we are,” Maluwelmeng said. “I used the 30-minute break staying quiet and thinking about what needs to happen when we get back on the floor.”
Needing a second set victory to push the game further, the Bulldogs knew they would have to get their game back. However, the ensuing set was as tight as it could’ve gotten as each team put on a great display of high offensive power and excellent defense. The Bulldogs and Geckos combined for 10 ties in the second set. Late in the set, Okkodo took a 21-20 lead after Anthony Blaz roofed league co-MVP Aguigui.
Okkodo couldn’t capitalize on the chance to steal the set and was dealt a devastating blow when kills by Mariano and Maluwelmeng gave GW a 22-21 edge.
Two plays later, a service ace by Mariano and a thunderous kill by Aguigui set up championship point for the Geckos. After a long rally, Okkodo’s Kepwe looked to keep the game going. However, a monster block by Aguigui returned Kepwe’s hit to the floor giving GW the victory.
“GW played hard, we played hard and we wanted to win this championship just as bad, but the better team won tonight,” said Okkodo’s Aaron Blaz. “We’ve come a long way and even though we didn’t win the championship we have a lot to be proud of.”