A sad day it was for the military as the civilian sector out-muscled and outgunned the Army and the Air Force crews at the start of the Shakey’s V-League Open yesterday. Front-running Cagayan Rising Suns bucked a slow start to beat the surprisingly resilient Air Force Airwomen 17-25, 30-28, 25-19, 25-9, while the 3rd-seeded Smart Maynilad Net Spikers outclassed the 2nd-seeded Army Lady Troopers 28-26, 25-17, 19-25, 29-27 to take a step closer to a coveted finals appearance at the Filoil Flying V Arena in San Juan.
The psyched-up Airwomen sprinted to a strong start against the Suns, winning 25-17 with booming aerial forays from Joy Cases and Judy Caballejo in the first set. They remained on target in the second set, but Coach Nes Pamilar’s veterans Aiza Maizo, Angeli Tabaquero and Thai imports Kannika Thipachot and Soraya Phomla contrived to stop the air offensives, finally outlasting the Airwomen 30-28 in a nerve-wracking 2nd set. Had they lost, the Airwomen would have had a strong psychological edge that could have taken them over the brink.
By the 3rd set, it was obvious that the tide had turned and, while they put up a fight at the start, the Airwomen were feeling more like mere mortals once again. The Rising Suns’ vaunted attacking game was on display, while the Air Force offense sputtered 25-19. Coach Clarence Esteban’s Airwomen had a chance to make a comeback at the 4th set, when the Suns’ national team captain Angeli was sidelined with what was reportedly the result of recurring injuries. But the Airwomen were now mentally defeated, finally succumbing 25-9.
The Kannika-Aiza-Angeli triumvirate would account for ‘only’ 44 points, underlying a balanced attack that saw their second line – including Sheila Pineda and Sandra de los Santos – getting involved in the scoring parade, while Jek Dionela continued to draw raves at the back-end.
In the second encounter, Smart-Maynilad relied on Thai imports Lithawat Kesinee and Wanida Kotruang to combine with Alyssa Valdez for a 59-point outbreak, frustrating the Army’s barrage with great net and ground coverage. The first set was a character-defining game for Smart, as Coach Roger Gorayeb’s wards twice had their backs against the wall 25-24 and 26-25, before racking up 3 straight points to prevail 28-26.
Rubie De Leon was superb in feeding gunners Lithawat and Alyssa alternately, and Lisa Gohing tended the defense as Smart prevailed in the 2nd set, 25-17. With a 0-2 deficit staring at them in the face, Coach Rico De Guzman brought in Neri Bautista in the 3rd set, providing added spark to the combination of Mary Jean Balse, Juvy Gonzaga and Rachel Ann Daquis. The Army took the 3rd set 25-19, and this would pave the way to an epic seesaw battle in the 4th canto.
As the Lithawat-Alyssa-Wanida wall faced the Jean-Juvy-Rachel triad, fans wondered who would blink first. The guns boomed, and the defenses held. The guns were reloaded and repositioned, and the defenses realigned. In the end, as the smoke of battle cleared, the Smart triumvirate would re-enforce their will, finally outlasting the Army 29-27.
With the victories, Cagayan and Smart-Maynilad are both now a win away from the finals in the Shakey’s V-League Season 10 Open Conference. All is not lost for the military’s all-Filipino sides though. Based on the results of the last encounter, a little tweak in the mindsets, a little adjustment to tighten the defense, a bit more practice, and a little bit more luck is all it takes to change the complexion of the game.
Watch out for Game 2 of the semis tomorrow.
For more on the Shakey’s V-League Open Women’s volleyball:
(Photos courtesy of Pinoy Spikers and Arnold Cruz)