Army outlasts Smart-Maynilad despite Valdez’s 28, Air Force wins 4th straight in Shakey’s V-League Open

TEAM STANDINGS

Cagayan Valley—7-0*

Philippine Army—5-1*

Philippine Air Force—4-2*

Smart-Maynilad—4-3*

Meralco—3-3*

Philippine Navy—1-5

Far Eastern University—0-5

Philippine National Police—0-5

*Qualified for quarterfinals


GAMES ON TUESDAY (September 17 at The Arena, San Juan City)

2:00PM Philippine National Police vs. Far Eastern University

4:00PM Philippine Air Force vs. Meralco


THE ARENA, San Juan City—On the day the National University (NU) copped its historic first ever UAAP Cheer Dance title, the Fibr-Philippines Power Pinays bowed to defending Asian champions China and undefeated pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather, Jr. slipped by gritty Saul Alvarez, Alyssa Valdez finally made her debut for the Smart-Maynilad Net Spikers as they lost a heartbreaking five-setter to the Philippine Army, 25-22, 25-19, 22-25, 20-25, 15-13, while the Philippine Air Force trounced the Philippine National Police in straight sets, 25-16, 25-11, 25-21, to up its winning streak to four in the ongoing preliminary round of the Shakey’s V-League Open Conference here.

Alyssa Valdez (#2) takes flight in her Smart-Maynilad debut for 28 points (Photo: Arnold Z. Cruz)

Valdez, missing the first six outings of the Net Spikers due to commitments to her collegiate squad Ateneo's participation in the UAAP Beach Volleyball competitions, played like a caged animal set free as she pounded on 21/56 spikes while the Lady Troopers struggled to contain her unmatched power. She also had six service aces; tying former coach Charo Soriano's team record. Valdez blended seamlessly with former Ateneo teammate Pheenok Kesinee of Thailand as the reunion ushered in a new era for the tandem that once helped the Lady Eagles capture the first of its two league titles in 2011—when Valdez was still a red-shirt freshman. Kesinee backstopped the “Phenom” from Batangas with 22 markers of her own, but trying to come back from two sets down proved to be harrowing for the Net Spikers in the loss.

The 28 points churned out by “Bagyong Baldo” is the highest individual output of the conference, eclipsing the 24 points registered by Cagayan Valley’s Kannika Thipachot and PNP’s Janine Marciano.

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MVP candidate Jovelyn Gonzaga held her own against the debuting Atenean by scoring a team-high 22 points, ably supported anew by former league MVP Mary Jean Balse's thirteen as Army also got a tremendous lift from veteran playmaker Tina Salak in using a total team effort to dispose of a Smart-Maynilad squad that is very close to realizing its full potential.

Army's Jovelyn Gonzaga (#8) defies the Smart-Maynilad defenses (Photo: Arnold Z. Cruz)

Salak had 46 excellent sets—out-setting the 43 of the entire Net Spikers’ team. But her blocking was wanting in the match and Valdez, Kesinee and open-spiker Maru Banaticla took full advantage for the net deficiencies of the Lady Troopers. In the end, the seasoning advantage of Army became the decisive factor in the victory as the Lady Troopers now climb to 5-1 to claim solo second place in the standings with only lowly FEU remaining on its schedule this Friday (September 20).

Smart-Maynilad—still playing without reigning league scoring champion Din-Din Santiago—dropped to fourth place (4-3) at the end of their prelims campaign.

Smart-Maynilad and Head Coach Roger Gorayeb drop to 4th in the standings (Photo: Arnold Z. Cruz)

Barring any complications in the schedules involving sixth place, the quarterfinals commence this Sunday, September 22nd.

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The possibility of a few intricacy issues arose when PNP dropped its fifth consecutive contest to PAF in the first match of last Sunday’s doubleheader.

The scenario now looms: should FEU defeat PNP this Tuesday (September 17th), Army defeat FEU on Friday and PNP defeat Navy on Friday, a three-way tie (1-6) will ensue for the final slot in the quarters. The league will use a quotient system to resolve this possible triple deadlock, but it will only send the lowest ranked squad packing. A playoff match will still determine the identity of the sixth-placed team. But for that to become a reality, Navy must its final preliminary round tiff. If the Lady Sailors prevail over the Lady Patrolers on Friday, Navy becomes the sixth qualifier.

Air Force skipper Liza de Ramos (R) challenges Ghileen Labrador's block (Photo: Arnold Z. Cruz)

The Airwomen had everything under control against PNP—which were playing sans starting center Michelle Datuin who is on loan to the national team seeing action in the 17th Asian Volleyball Confederation (AVC) Asian Senior Women’s Volleyball Championship in Nakhon Ratchasima (Korat City), Thailand.

Journeywoman Joy Cases once again starred for Air Force with a game-high eighteen points as the Airwomen captured its fourth straight win after losing its first two assignments at the start of the tournament. The UST duo of Judy Caballejo and Maika Ortiz contributed eleven and ten points, respectively.

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The Lady Patrolers, smarting from two five-set setbacks to Meralco and unscathed Cagayan Valley—showed some signs of life in the third canto as power hitters Marciano and Thai import Patcharee Sangmuang went toe to toe with the Airwomen’s juggernaut, but an anemic showing by San Beda stalwart Frances Molina indirectly influenced the lackluster performance of the entire squad. Marciano finished with only eleven points while Sangmuang’s ten markers were not enough to prevent PNP from staying winless in the tournament.

PNP's Janine Marciano (#9) was the lone bright spot for the Lady Patrolers (Photo: Arnold Z. Cruz)

Their upcoming clash against the also winless Lady Tamaraws on Tuesday will be their most crucial encounter of the conference. That will be worth the price of admission, for sure.

PNP still has control of its own destiny if it can triumph in its final two outings.

The Airwomen close the prelims against the roller-coaster Meralco Power Spikers, also on Tuesday.

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Those qualifying for the quarterfinals bring with them their win-loss card from the prelims, so even if Cagayan Valley, Army, Air Force, Smart-Maynilad and Meralco are already assured of advancing, every match still counts. It is getting quite intriguing as line-ups are now solidifying. The Net Spikers have already displayed Kesinee and Valdez, and could be a few days away from parading Santiago and maybe another foreign import. The Airwomen have also shown that their bench is very deep. Former Finals MVP Rachel Anne Daquis has yet to start for the Lady Troopers, but could have that opportunity in their final match against her former school, FEU. Meralco’s Coco Wang is due for a huge game—as are Power Spikers Fille Cainglet and Paneng Mercado—while the Rising Suns core is going through an unintentional team building session in Thailand at present--and their two Thai reinforcements are having a much needed respite.

Army's Rachel Anne Daquis (#13) continues to come off the bench (Photo: Arnold Z. Cruz)

We are now at the penultimate prelims gameday and no team has been officially ousted yet. This makes for high-drama on the volleyball court. Let's witness that climax together. See you at SJA.

BOXSCORES:

Philippine Air Force (4-2) def. Philippine National Police (0-5)

PAF—Cases 18, Caballejo 11, Ortiz 10, de Ramos 9, Semana 7, Dimaculangan 1, Manzano 1, Legaspi (L) 0, Abanto 0.

PNP—Marciano 12, Sangmuang 11, Molina 6, Labrador 3, Concepcion 1, Dave 1, Tadeo (L) 0, Ogana 0, Castro 0, Remigio 0.

Philippine Army (5-1) def. Smart-Maynilad (4-3)

PA—Gonzaga 22, Balse 13, Carolino 10, Bautista 8, Salak 7, Bunag 6, Alarca 3, Daquis 2, Siatan-Torres (L) 0, Nunag (L) 0,

Smart-Maynilad—Valdez 28, Kesinee 22, Banaticla 10, Soltones 8, de Leon 6, Gohing (L) 1, Roces 0, Guliman 0, Ferrer 0, Soriano 0.

Follow Noel Zarate on Twitter (@NoelZarate) and email sportztackle@yahoo.com

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