MANILA, Philippines – So close, yet so far.
That had always been the case for Choco Mucho ever since its PVL debut in 2019.
From near cellar-dwelling conference records to last-second podium crashes decided by decimal points, the Flying Titans have had multiple cracks at breaking through the upper echelon of league contenders, but something always just went wrong in every single campaign they have been in.
Finally, last Tuesday, December 12, that stretch of futility ended after the fan favorite squad averted yet another scare and eliminated Cignal in Game 3 of the 2023 Second All-Filipino Conference semifinals to clinch its first-ever finals berth.
For former Ateneo stars Kat Tolentino and Deanna Wong, who have stuck with the program through thick and thin from the day it started, it was a massive sigh of relief after so many heartbreaks and shortcomings.
“I think it’s not even just the [semifinals] series. It’s how long it’s taken for Choco Mucho to get to the finals is what I’m so thankful for,” Tolentino said. “It’s been a long journey, especially for me since I’ve been with them since the beginning and just super grateful.
“It’s years of hard work with this team and very thankful for coach Dante (Alinsunurin) and Sisi (Rondina) for coming in and bringing out the best in this team and again, super thankful.”
Tolentino, who had recently fully recovered from nagging minor setbacks after a lengthy history of major injuries, got back to top form in timely fashion and powered down 17 points in the finals-clinching win.
Wong, meanwhile, put out a playmaking masterclass with 24 excellent sets, helping five players to double-digit scoring in the four-set victory.
“Just really grateful and blessed to be here,” she added. “As a team, our first goal was to be part of the top four, part of the semifinals, so now being part of the championship [series], we’re just really blessed and grateful to have finally come here.”
Even before the buzzer sounded on Cignal’s final and ultimately unsuccessful challenge that set the final score, Wong was already on her hands and knees in tears as years of falling short finally paid off for her and her squad.
Now facing dynastic sister team Creamline in the best of three finals starting Thursday, December 14, Choco Mucho is in for another uphill climb as it has never defeated the Cool Smashers in nine previous meetings.
Challenges, however, are just par for the course for the Flying Titans at this point, and they are surely well-equipped to face another one now. For better or worse, only lessons will be learned when the dust settles in the end. – Rappler.com