Cheng goes from almost missing season to leading Benilde to NCAA title

Before she helped lead the College of St. Benilde to its first-ever NCAA volleyball championship, Djanel Cheng had no plans of returning for her fifth playing year. 

“I really had no plans of playing,” she told FOX Sports. “Last year was supposed to be my last. I asked my teammates during the Shakey’s V-League to give me something to hold on to — that we will fight until the end.”

From the start of the season, they did. And at the end of the tournament, they are champions. 

The Lady Blazers battled a thrice-to-win disadvantage to stun once-unbeaten San Sebastian College, winning Game 4, 25-22, 25-23, 22-25, 25-22, in front of a raucous crowd at the FilOil Flying V Arena in San Juan. 

“I feel so happy because this is the first championship and it happened with our batch,” Cheng said. “I am so overwhelmed with how God did not leave us until the end, and of course, for the legacy that I will be leaving the school.”

Coming into NCAA Season 91, Cheng was confident they’d make it to the finals. 

But losing to then-defending champion Arellano University in the elimination round shot their confidence down. 

“I was in tears after that game,” she admitted. “But we told ourselves that we just need to make the Final Four and we will redeem ourselves.”

And even if they had to go the long route to enter the championship round, Cheng said there was almost no pressure when they made it to the Last Dance. 

“I was just enjoying the game,” she said. “And I motivate myself a lot during my alone time.”

Facing a juggernaut Lady Stags squad led by MVP Gretcel Soltones, Cheng revealed their key to victory.

“Joining off-season leagues helped us gain self-confidence and experience. We do not dwell on our mistakes, and as a captain, I would always make them smile,” she said. “I cannot show my team that I am the first one to give up.” 

Now that she’s done with the collegiate level, Cheng looks forward to showing her wares in the semi-pro ranks. 

“I would be playing for Cignal in the upcoming Philippine SuperLiga,” she shared. “But after that, I would rest and travel. I am so exhausted after playing in the NCAA.” 

Arylle Magtalas