Smart-Maynilad’s amazing Alyssa Valdez fired a salvo of 4 missile-like spikes to annihilate the Army in the 5th set of a heart-stopping winner-take-all playoff duel, earning a spot in the finals of this year’s Shakey’s V-League Open Tournament. Smart’s marathon victory – 21-25, 25-20, 25-13, 21-25, 15-10 – came at the heels of another epic 5-setter with the Army, a monumental loss where they squandered a seemingly comfortable 9-point lead, and with only 2 points needed for them to clinch the match.
With a similar scenario threatening to build up in the 5th set, Alyssa ‘Booming Baldo’ Valdez came to the rescue, bailing out the beleaguered Net Spikers with her timely blasts, and forever erasing the shadow of the ‘choker’ which manifested itself in the previous game.
Smart-Maynilad also unveiled another gem whose presence helped their cause in a big way. Dindin Santiago, an MVP for the collegiate champs NU, finally suited up for the Net Spikers, beefing up an already star-studded team. Dindin produced 19 points to augment Alyssa’a 24 and Kesinee Lithawat’s 22, and had a key block towards the end of the 5th set, to doom the Army’s efforts for a late rally.
The Army Lady Spikers valiantly fought tooth-and-nail, with Juvy Gonzaga and Rachel Anne Daquis leading the scoring parade. Once again, they trailed the Net-Spikers in spikes (54-72), service aces (2-5), digs (40-52), and sets (38-45). Army only led in blocks (13-12) but somehow had more intangibles that had them staying in the game. But this time, all their efforts were put to naught by a mentally better-prepared Smart-Maynilad team.
With the hard-fought win, Smart advances to the finals where they will meet the well-rested Cagayan Rising Suns. The best-of-three series is a much-awaited clash of titans. It will be an exciting match, with the Arena expected to rock with the fans. Cagayan is unbeaten, and has a line-up that spells National Team. Smart, on the other hand, has a recently built-up line-up which spells All-Stars.
Cagayan is reinforced by 2 Thai imports: Kannika ‘Killer Spike’ Thipachot and Soraya ‘The Setter’ Phomla. Smart has their own Thai imports in the persons of veteran Kesinee and newcomer Wanida Kotruang, both of whom are solid cogs in offense and defense.
Cagayan’s local cast is led by National Team Captain Angeli Tabaquero, the steady Aisa Maizo, Weng Eulalio, Sandra de los Santos, Pau Soriano, Sheila Pineda and libero Jek Dionela.
Smart, on the other hand, will rely on the exciting ‘Booming Baldo’, Dindin Santiago, setter non-pareil Rubie De Leon, Maru Banaticla, Sue Roces, Gretchel Sultones and libero Melissa Gohing.
The coaching duel will by itself be a battle of veterans. Cagayan’s Nes Pamilar will pit bench tactics with Smart’s Roger Gorayeb, both of whom are familiar with the other from fiery volley duels in the collegiate wars.
Everything is set, folks, for this gunslinger’s dream-of-a-match. With both sides armed with arsenals so deep, so unforgiving, and so ready to pounce on the slightest of errors. Expect Aly and Angeli to both bring in their A-games. Expect the match to bring in the noisy fans, and bring in the excitement. Expect the Arena to go boom and bang and boogie. Bring on the pizza, folks, bring in your popcorn. For it’s time for the best to do battle in primetime volleyball action.
See you there!!!
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(Photos courtesy of Arnold Z. Cruz and Shakey’s V-League)