Far Eastern University—0-2
Philippine Air Force—0-2
Philippine National Police—0-2
GAMES ON FRIDAY (August 30 at The Arena, San Juan City)
2:00PM FEU vs. Philippines Air Force
4:00PM Philippine Navy vs. Cagayan Valley
THE ARENA, San Juan City—The Cagayan Valley Rising Suns exposed the weakness of Smart-Maynilad’s non-existence of a bench as it demolished the erstwhile undefeated Net Spikers in straight sets while Meralco needed to go the full route to notch its second win in three sorties at the expense of a rejuvenated Far Eastern University (FEU) Lady Tamaraws squad in the preliminary round of the ongoing Shakey’s V-League Open Conference here.
But apparently the biggest headliner of the day was the debut of reigning UAAP Finals MVP Michele Gumabao, not on the playing court but in the broadcast booth as former De La Salle University (DLSU) co-captain served as television analyst for the two matches. Gumabao, working with yours truly, sent the live streaming audiences into a frenzy and—coupled by the two thrilling tiffs—had the hashtag #ShakeysVLeague trending at number one in the archipelago. The 20-year-old utility spiker is presently nursing a severe shoulder injury that has kept her away from playing, so she decided to have her first involvement with the country’s premier women's volleyball league as a broadcaster. She did quite well in her rookie effort and many commended her commentary as fresh and coming from a different perspective and will surely be back on the panel very soon.
Cagayan Valley def. Smart-Maynilad—25-23, 26-24, 25-20
The first match pitted two teams with spotless records as Smart-Maynilad headed into the encounter winning all three of its prelims assignments while the Rising Suns were coming off a four-set conquest of the Philippine Air Force last Friday. It was anticipated to be the match that could go extra sets and, after a tightly contested opener, it seemed destined to live up to the billing.
After Cagayan Valley raced to a 5-0 lead courtesy of a variety of put-aways by former league MVP Aiza Maizo-Pontillas, the Net Spikers began a challenge of their own as Maizo-Pontillas’ former UST teammate Maru Banaticla almost singlehandedly led the resurgence for Smart-Maynilad. Banaticla was nursing a sore right arm while lone utility spiker Suzanne Roces was playing with a bad case of the flu. However, that did not stop the Net Spikers from forging ahead at the twilight before a series of untimely errors allowed the Rising Suns to regain the lead. Thai teenage sensation Kannika Thipachot began cracking the Smart-Maynilad frontline defenses, making it difficult for the Net Spikers to maintain any form of momentum.
The second set was of a similar mold as Thipachot joined forces with Rising Suns skipper Angge Tabaquero to continue the relentless bombardment of Smart-Maynilad’s defensive alignments. However, six service aces—four coming from middle-attacker Charo Soriano—kept the Net Spikers in step. Smart-Maynilad held a 20-17 lead in the latter portion of the second set but Maizo-Pontillas took over and sent the set to an extension before Thipachot ended it, 26-24 for Cagayan Valley.
Former FEU center Wenneth Eulalio played a vital role in the third canto as fatigue began to take its toll on the shorthanded Net Spikers who were still utilizing the services of only eight players as the much heralded duo of Ateneo's Alyssa Valdez and NU's Din-Din Santiago were not available for the match. Cagayan Valley eventually wore out the Net Spikers to pick up the third set, 25-20 and deal Smart-Maynilad its first loss in four outings.
Many expected a longer match, but Smart-Maynilad Head Coach Roger Gorayeb was readying himself and the team to absorb the setback.
“This is one of the matches I knew we had a good chance of losing,” Gorayeb said, in the vernacular. “They’re strong and we weren’t at our best. We will have reinforcements coming soon and we have a long rest, so let’s see in our next match.”
One of the reinforcements he refers to is former Ateneo guest player Lithawat "Phee Nok" Kesinee who will be joining the team within the next week. The 6'1" Kesinee, a former league MVP, is completing her stint in the Australian Volleyball League and should be in the country in time for the Net Spikers’ next game against the Philippine Air Force on September 6th. He even hinted on eyeing the services of yet another foreign player, but won’t divulge details yet.
“You’ll see her soon,” Gorayeb winked.
Meralco def. FEU—25-12, 25-22, 18-25, 23-25, 15-13
While many were still recovering from the shock Cagayan Valley dealt to the virtual all-star squad of Smart-Maynilad, nothing could have prepared the almost one thousand spectators present at the venue for the thriller that was to unfold between Meralco and FEU; a game many expected the Power Spikers to win easily.
After all, the Lady Tamaraws were completely outclassed by Smart-Maynilad in their initial encounter and even went on to set a league record for fewest points attained in a set when the Net Spikers clobbered them, 25-5 in the second of that opening day match eventually won by Smart-Maynilad via a sweep. Meralco, for their part, kept in step with sister squad Smart-Maynilad in their clash last Sunday and went on to lose in four pulsating sets. Meralco is stacked with talent at every position, even boasting of the presence of former league MVP Maureen Penetrante-Ouano and 6’3” Chinese import Coco Wang—who has now had the benefit of a few practice sessions with her new squad.
After the Power Spikers gobbled up the Lady Tamaraws in the first two sets, 25-12 and 25-22, it looked as though the seers were right and it would be cakewalk for Meralco. Wang was just too big and former Lady Tamaraw Maica Morada was just too powerful. It appeared that FEU was in for another straight-sets defeat at the hands of a more veteran team.
But when the third set ensued, something clicked for FEU.
The reception and floor defense which was glaringly absent in the first two sets began falling into place, so much so that the Power Spikers could not connect on the clean hits they were scoring with earlier. Teenage prodigy Remy Palma and freshman Bernadeth Pons became the prime targets of senior setter Gyzelle Sy and the entire team helped libero Tin Agno patrol the floor.
Inspired by the cheers from their fans—and those who always root for the underdogs—the Lady Tamaraws took the next two sets to force a decider; something that shocked the Meralco faithful. The kids from Morayta were getting it done and were poised to upset the seasoned pros.
The fifth set was a classic exchange as Penetrante-Ouano began making a difference while open hitters Fille Cainglet and Stephanie Mercado chipped in. But FEU answered with Palma and Pons undaunted by the taller Power Spikers frontline and after a Penetrante-Ouano service error, the set was knotted at 13-13. That’s when Wang took over, scoring the final two points en route to a game-high 23 as Meralco got back on the winning track, 15-13.
The spirit shown by the Lady Tamaraws, however, will only help them moving forward. The girls were still all smiles following the defeat as they all knew every bit of experience they can gain from playing against the big names of the league only helps them reach their ultimate goal of becoming a title contender in the upcoming UAAP Season 76 women’s volleyball competitions. They displayed poise beyond their years and the aggression of a championship-calibre team and this will only help them with their morale moving forward in the preliminary round and perhaps even beyond.
Meralco next takes on unscathed Cagayan Valley on Sunday (September 1) while FEU locks horns with fellow cellar-dweller Philippine Air Force on Friday (August 30).
You can catch all the action from the Shakey’s V-League Open every Monday to Friday at 1:00PM and every Saturday at 12:45PM on GMA News TV. If you want to watch the games on-demand, simply go to the league’s official website and click on the live streaming link. There, you will see all the archives of the matches not only from the ongoing Open Conference, but from the first conference as well.
Sev Sarmenta will be taking over the anchorman duties for the next two playdates and I will be back in the broadcast booth next Tuesday. September 3rd. See you all then!
Cagayan Valley (2-0) def. Smart-Maynilad (3-1)
Cagayan Valley—Tabaquero 15, Thipachot 14, Maizo-Pontillas 13, Eulalio 11, P. Soriano 6, Soraya 2, Dionela (L) 0, Benito 0, Saet 0, Vargas 0.
Smart-Maynilad—Banaticla 15, C. Soriano 9, Roces 8, Guliman 6, Soltones 5, de Leon 1, Ferrer 1, Gohing (L) 0.
Meralco (2-1) def. FEU (0-2)
Meralco—Wang 23, Penetrante-Ouano 14, Mercado 11, Morada 11, Cainglet 10, Jose 1, Reyes (L) 0, Bello 0, Quemada 0, de Guzman 0, Velez 0.
FEU—Palma 20, Pons 20, Simborio 9, Bagang 8, Malabanan 4, Sy 4, Casugod 3, Dawson 1, Agno (L) 0, Torres 0.
Follow Noel Zarate on Twitter (@NoelZarate) and email email@example.com