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Nationals gain share of lead

National University-Sta. Elena rose from the brink and snatched a thriller of a comeback win against Philippine Navy, 15-25, 24-26, 25-19, 26-24, 18-16, to force a three-way tie for the lead in the 2022 Spikers’ Turf Open Conference yesterday at the Paco Arena in Manila.

The Nationals sustained their fightback from two sets down by wresting control early in the fifth but blew a 9-6 lead as they wavered in the face of the Sealions’ fiery rally.

But they put their act together one last time, overcoming a 15-16 deficit by winning the next three to seize the victory, their second straight following a four-set win over Army-Katinko last Thursday.

That late rush was aided by costly back-to-back Navy errors as Josh Umandal served short and setter EJ Casana’s shoulders hit the net while setting a play and the Nationals foiled the high-flying Greg Dolor’s match-tying bid with a double-block from Gerard Diao and Kennry Malinis, ending the rousing two-hour encounter that featured cannon sound kills, sharp-angled crosscourt hits and superb blocking.

It was the third match in seven games that went through the distance, further underscoring the level playing field in the seven-team tournament marking the resumption of men’s volleyball after a three-year hiatus.

“Both teams played well but we’re happy with the outcome. The guys were able to play into the system towards the end,” said NU-Sta. Elena coach Dante Alinsunurin, whose wards thus tied the idle Cignal HD Spikers and the VNC-One Alicia Griffins for the lead in the early going of the tournament.

Obed Mukaba’s anchored NU-Sta. Elena’s exceptional net defense, coming through with 10 kill blocks, including three in succession that capped their fourth-set escape, while Diao added five as the Nationals doubled their rivals’ output with 22.

The Congolese also took the game’s top honors by coming up with six hits and one ace for a 17-point output, besting top hitter Nico Almendras’ 16 points.

Michaelo Buddin and Malinis delivered 13 points each while Diao finished with nine points.

Umandal and Dolor led Navy with 22 and 19 points, respectively, while Joeven dela Vega had 17 points, including clutch hits that put the team back in the hunt in the fifth.

The loss dropped Navy to 1-1.

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