It’s on to the semi-finals, folks, as we say goodbye to the gallant Meralco Power Spikers and the PNP Lady Patrollers.
The Cagayan Rising Suns finished the quarterfinals with an unblemished record 10-0, highlighting the strength of a line-up starring current national players, plus the superb Thai import duo of Kannika Thipachot and Soraya Phomla. With their key players fresh from a stint in Thailand to represent the Philippines in the recently-concluded Asian Women’s Volleyball Championship, Cagayan looms as the heavy favorite to win its best-of-three series with the Philippine Air Force Airwomen.
Cagayan Head Coach Nes Pamilar will have a relatively easier time pacing his team. Despite the fact that the Air Force Airwomen were able to mount a strong challenge in their last encounter, their 5-5 record does not bode well in a mano-a-mano duel against the Cagayanos. The Suns are simply way stronger in both offense, with Aiza Maiso Pontillas, Angeli Tabaquero and Wenneth Eulalio lending Kannika a hand; and defense, with libero Jek Dionela providing great ground coverage with Soraya. Air Force Head Coach Clarence Esteban will rely on mainstays Maika Ortiz, Judy Caballeja and Rhea Dimaculangan, but clearly, the team is ‘makukulangan’ – meaning, they will be found ‘lacking’ – in firepower and defensive strength. Only injuries – or a miracle – can stop the Suns from shining in this encounter.
The Smart-Maynilad Net Spikers may have lost a 5-set heartbreaker to the front-running Cagayan Rising Suns. But another gut-wrenching 5-set squeaker-of-a-win against the Army Lady Troopers evened the score and gave Smart-Maynilad a psychological boost going into their own best-of-three series with the Army. Smart-Maynilad’s coach Roger Gorayeb unveiled a new offensive threat in Thai import Wanida Kotruang, to pose a bigger threat than their third-running 6-4 win-loss slate illustrate. Wanida teams up with another Thai import Pheenok Kesinee, the exciting Alyssa Valdez, Sue Roces, and Gretchel Sultones to provide a multiple-barreled attack for the Net Spikers. Providing splendid support from the rear are libero Melissa Gohing, Jem Ferrer and Rubie De Leon. Yes, it looks like the Smart Net Spikers are finally stretching their muscles now.
Facing the Smart-Maynilad Net Spikers in the semis are the Army Lady Troopers, a team without an import, but is composed mainly of former internationalists. Rachel Ann Daquis, Juvelyn Gonzaga, Mary Jean Balse and Joanne Bunag will provide the offensive sock, with Tina Salak, Ers Iratay and Angie Nunag, providing support. Coach Rico De Guzman is expected to bring in Neri Bautista and Michelle Carolino to bolster the Army offense.
On paper, Cagayan seems to have an edge in the race to the finals. But this semis clash between Smart-Maynilad and Army could provide a blessing of sorts for whoever wins this duel. Barring any more injuries (Army lost their primary libero Shasha Siaton Torres in the quarterfinals), the Smart – Army tiff will stretch both teams to the limit, giving them ample warm-up for the ultimate smash finals with Cagayan. Besides, if the Cagayanos 5-set wins over Air Force, Smart and Army are a gauge, it would seem that it’s too early to concede the tourney to the Rising Suns.
This Tuesday, Cagayan attempts to march forward to the championship against a relative lightweight, yet still dangerous Air Force team. Army and Smart-Maynilad provide fireworks in the second semifinal match, in what many believe is a toss-up. Who eventually goes home with the crown? The Suns have announced they will keep on rising. The Lady Troopers have vowed to shoot down the Suns. And the Net Spikers are confident ‘they have only just begun’. Take your pick, ladies and gents.
For more on the Shakey’s V-League Open Women’s volleyball:
(photos, illustrations courtesy of pinoy spikers, arnold z cruz, ahaconnection.com, grms.stvrain.k12.co)