It was supposed to be over by the 4th set. Smart-Maynilad was just 2 points away from a spot at the finals at 23-14. Two teeny-weeny, itsy-bitsy, seemingly minuscule, yet priceless points that would have led to the Smart Net Spikers’ first-ever run at the Shakey’s V-League finals.
Everyone who wore the Smart colors of blue and white -from the players on the court, to those seated on the bench, to the fans in the bleachers – were all smiles, thinking that the Army was now done for, and were just going through the motions of finishing the match. That 9-point lead was simply insurmountable! And with Smart already ahead 2 sets to 1, it was time to prepare for the party.
But the never-say-die Army Lady Troopers would refuse to cooperate, and instead, set off a crushing 11-point explosion. Not only would they win the set 25-23, but they would shock the Smart Net Spikers into oblivion in the 5th and deciding set, 15-10!
It was a miracle ending that had even the Army ladies crying in disbelief. They were outclassed in practically all aspects of the game; from spikes (a whopping 49-63!) to service aces (8-11) to errors forced (22-29) to digs (30-48), perfect sets (23-44) and receptions (18-20). The only department they edged out Smart was in blocks, 9-8.
But all that didn’t matter in the end. There were simply no statistics out there to measure heart. No figures to quantify guts and will to win. And no angels to count silent prayers answered.
Coach Rico de Guzman must not have realized the gem-of-a-move he made by fielding the seldom-used Dahlia Cruz. Dahlia was devastating in the 4th set, demolishing the Smart net defense with 8 untouchable spikes. Her offensives would prove the turning point as the Army’s spirits would be revived, and the starters would come in fresh and ready for the mop-up operation against a shell-shocked opposition in the fifth and final set.
Again, Coach Rico looked like a genius when he signaled Genie Sabas to come in for the beleaguered Troopers in that fateful 4th set. Genie’s wicked serves would run roughshod over the Net Spikers’ defenses, keeping hopes alive, emboldening the Army, until Dahlia delivered.
Smart-Maynilad Coach Roger Gorayeb first order of business for tomorrow’s now-or-never spike duel will be to exorcise the effects of this oh-so-humiliating loss. For never in the annals of the new scoring system has there been an overhauled lead so big (a 9-point lead!), with a victory so close (2 points to match point), with the stakes so great (a slot at the Shakey’s finals)!
But don’t fret, Smart fans. If there is someone who can magically motivate the befuddled Net Spikers back into fighting form, it is Coach Roger. Besides, with Kesinee Lithawat’s combat experience, Alyssa Valdez’ weapons arsenal and Melissa Gohing’s dogged determination, Smart-Maynilad is definitely still in the race. Not to mention fresh import Wanida Kotruang, Gretchel Sultones, Sue Roces and setter Rubie de Leon.
Coach Rico, on the other hand, will be looking for that magic potion that miraculously snapped the Troopers out of their lethargic state. He needs all that magic to keep alive the mental toughness they exuded. With the likes of Mary Jean Balse, Rachel Ann Daquis, Juvy Gonzaga, Tina Salak, and cameo roles from snipers Dahlia Cruz, Genie Sabas, Nerissa Bautista, we should be in for a match of epic proportions.
That said, the Cagayan Rising Suns – with an easy 3-set ho-hum victory over the Air Force – will be waiting to give whosoever wins a bigger challenge to solve.
To the Army and Smart-Maynilad lady warriors, good luck and may the best team win!!!
For more on the Shakey’s V-League Open Women’s volleyball:
(Photos courtesy of Arnold Cruz and Shakey’s V-League)