Army, Smart-Maynilad begin q’final campaigns with wins in Shakey’s V-League Open

QUARTERFINALS TEAM STANDINGS

Cagayan Valley—7-0

Philippine Army—7-1

Philippine Air Force—5-3

Smart-Maynilad—5-3

Meralco—3-4

Philippine National Police—2-6


QUARTERFINAL GAMES ON TUESDAY (September 24 at The Arena, San Juan City)

2:00PM Philippine Air Force vs. Cagayan Valley

4:00PM Meralco vs. Philippine Army


THE ARENA, San Juan City—The Philippine Army Lady Troopers overcame a late charge by to triumph over the Philippine National Police Lady Patrolers as the Smart-Maynilad Net Spikers needed four sets to overcome the Philippine Air Force squad to kick-off the quarterfinal round of the ongoing Shakey’s V-League Open Conference here.

Former league MVP Mary Jean Balse with one of her 15 points against PNP (Photo: Arnold Z. Cruz)

Former league MVP Mary Jean Balse and former Finals MVP Rachel Anne Daquis combined for 30 points in Army’s 25-13, 25-23, 25-22 win over PNP to move the Lady Troopers just a half-game behind league-leading Cagayan Valley in atop the leaderboard. Daquis, the former FEU stalwart, got the starting nod from Army’s Head Coach Rico de Guzman after traffic delayed the arrival of scheduled opener Nene Bautista.

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It turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the Lady Troopers as Daquis finished with fifteen points, tying Balse’s total contribution.

Army's Rachel Anne Daquis denies PNP's Veronica Concepcion (#2) at the net (Photo: Arnold Z. Cruz)

Balse and Daquis were given multiple opportunities to create havoc against the Lady Patrolers defenses through impeccable setting from veteran playmaker Tina Salak, who registered an incredible 34 excellent sets, while their overall floor defense limited the usually prolific output from PNP’s offensive triumvirate of San Beda duo Janine Marciano and Frances Molina along with former Thai national team captain Patcharee Sangmuang. The trio could only join forces for 32 markers and failed to get ample support from the rest of the team.

Army’s stirring win turned out to be a rude welcoming back of national team reserve center Michelle Datuin who rejoined the Lady Patrolers after an almost two week absence after being on-loan to the Fibr-Philippines contingent that finished twelfth in the Asian Volleyball Confederation (AVC) Asian Senior Women’s Volleyball Championship in Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand. Not even Datuin’s presence at the net could deter the relentless attacks from Balse and Daquis who—joined in the fray by MVP candidate Jovelyn Gonzaga—challenged PNP’s floor defense and receptions with strikes to the back row and loaded services. Gonzaga scored twelve points in the match.

PNP's Michelle Datuin (R) runs into trouble at the net against Army (Photo: Arnold Z. Cruz)

The Lady Patrolers could not respond and hence could not execute the wicked offensive sets that allowed them to pick up back-to-back victories in their final two outings of the preliminaries phase to enable them to qualify for the quarters.

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But PNP made it difficult for the Lady Troopers to put them away as some semblance of order was restored in their game in the latter two sets with Sangmuang helping organize the backline. The Lady Patrolers had chances to remain aggressive against Army in the twilight of both the second and third sets, but once again their reception problems plagued them until the end.

Marciano led the Lady Patrolers with twelve points while Sangmuang and Molina chipped-in ten points each. PNP takes on Smart-Maynilad on Friday (September 26th) while Army tests the struggling Meralco Power Spikers on Tuesday (September 24th). PNP dropped to 2-6 in the standings, but still have four more games to play and are still in line for a shot at the semifinals.

PNP's Janine Marciano was busier helping out on defense than on offense (Photo: Arnold Z. Cruz)

In the second match, the Net Spikers once again leaned on Ateneo wunderkind Alyssa Valdez to pull out a hard-earned 25-23, 22-25, 25-15, 25-18 conquest against the Airwomen, and in the process snap Air Force’s five game winning streak.

Valdez, coming off a season-high 28 point performance in Smart-Maynilad’s last prelims assignment—and her first game in the league this conference—this time attained a game-high 25 markers as the Net Spikers avenged their initial defeat at the hands of the Airwomen last September 6th—the last time Smart-Maynilad dropped a match. The win made it three in a row for the Net Spikers and also the third straight for returning former league MVP Pheenok Kesinee from Thailand. Kesinee notched eighteen points in the win, but more importantly her five block points became a catalyst in changing the Air Force offense at the net.

Alyssa Valdez pitched-in for Smart-Maynilad on defense as well (Photo: Arnold Z. Cruz)

Kesinee—who has become a very fluent English speaker since playing in the Australian professional circuit over the past months—was often seen interjecting strategies during lulls and giving instructions to the team’s younger members, most especially 19-year-old Gretchel Soltones of San Sebastian, as well as celebrating every positive action the Net Spikers took in diffusing the high-powered attacks from the UST pair of Judy Caballejo and Maika Ortiz. Kesinee added eighteen points for the Net Spikers.

Pheenok Kesinee (R) scattered 18 markers for Smart-Maynilad in the win (Photo: Arnold Z. Cruz)

Smart-Maynilad libero Melissa Gohing also played a key role in the win with her gung-ho floor patrolling which led to several excellent sets for reigning Finals MVP Rubie de Leon. The total team effort paid off for the Roger Gorayeb mentored club, forcing a tie for third place with their victims.

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Caballejo led the Airwomen in scoring with seventeen markers backstopped by journeywoman Joy Cases’ eleven. Air Force locks horns with the undefeated Rising Suns on Tuesday (September 24th).

PAF's Judy Caballejo scored 17 points in their first loss since August 30th (Photo: Arnold Z. Cruz)

For Smart-Maynilad, it seems they are peaking and gelling at just the right time. The addition of Kesinee and the re-emergence of Valdez have totally turned the franchise around and at the rate de Leon is orchestrating as well as Gohing—the best libero in the league—racking up the digging and receiving numbers, the Net Spikers are turning out to be a major threat to the two pre-tournament favorites (Army and Cagayan Valley). It’s a perennial all-star squad that is beginning to play like one.

It will also be interesting to see how the Rising Suns come together for their first match as a complete team since the AVC campaign.

As I mentioned in a previous article, Cagayan Valley’s Thai reinforcements Kannina Thipachot and Phomla Soraya have been out of competitive volleyball since the core of the team left for Korat City. However, immediately following the final match last Sunday, the Rising Suns were all present at SJA and were set to practice to realign. Thipachot and Soraya did not look like they gained any excess weight during the break, but could come out rusty in their Tuesday tiff against an Air Force squad, looking not only to bounce back from their first defeat in nearly a month but also looking for redemption against a team that dealt them their first setback of the season.

Can Cagayan Valley continue its amazing run? (Photo: Arnold Z. Cruz)

There will be light shed on these speculations on Tuesday. Cagayan Valley has yet to lose. Are they still the team to beat? What about the injury sustained by skipper Angge Tabaquero in Thailand? Will that be a vital factor in the Rising Suns’ quarterfinal sorties?

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Michele Gumabao has now become my constant Tuesday date and our pair will be broadcasting to you all the action. Be sure to join us.

The author broadcasting with Michele Gumabao: Your Tuesday Date (Photo: Cesar Bailen, Jr.)

See you all at SJA.

BOXSCORES:

Philippine Army (7-1) def. Philippine National Police (2-6)

PA—Balse 15, Daquis 15, Gonzaga 11, Bunag 9, Carolino 8, Salak 5, Bautista 2, Siatan-Torres (L) 0, Nunag (L) 0.

PNP—Marciano 12, Molina 10, Sangmuang 10, Dave 6, Datuin 3, Concepcion 1, Labrador 1, Tadeo (L) 0, Castro 0, Ogana 0.

Smart-Maynilad (5-3) def. Philippine Air Force (5-3)

SM-M—Valdez 25, Kesinee 18, Soltones 7, Roces 6, de Leon 5, Guliman 5, Banaticla 1, Soriano 1, Gohing (L) 0, Ferrer 0.

PAF—Caballejo 17, Cases 11, de Ramos 9, Ortiz 7, Semana 7, Dimaculangan 4, Legaspi 1, Abanto (L) 0, Manzano 0, Pantino 0, Andaya 0.

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

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