Hello there, sports fans, and welcome to the Shakey’s V-League rollercoaster ride to serve-and-volley glory!!!
At the start of the tourney, everybody thought that the Ateneo Lady Eagles – fresh from their riveting win in the UAAP women’s volleyball championship – would be a cinch for at least a slot in the finals. With UAAP tourney MVP, Alyssa Valdez, riding the crest of their cinderella campaign, the Lady Eagles were early favorites along with the defending champs, the National University Lady Bulldogs.
The Bulldogs, led by reigning MVP Dindin Santiago and her vastly-improved sister, Jaja, plus gunners Myla Pablo and Aiko Urdas, were clearly head-and-shoulders above the rest on the offensive end at the starting gun. It was however the Lady Eagles’ bench depth that most volleyball pundits felt would spell the difference for the crown.
The early skirmishes saw the emergence of an exciting new team from outside Metro Manila. The Davao Lady Agilas caught the imagination of the boom-and-bang crowd as they clawed the Bulldogs and outsoared the Lady Eagles in two equally-exciting matches before sizeable and clearly appreciative crowds. It was a pleasant surprise indeed to have a virtual outsider challenging the Lady Eagles for the distinction as the league’s fan favorites.
The Lady Agilas did not have the height nor the urban sophistication, but their determination and their refusal to be intimidated by the Manila crowd – epitomized by Reynelen ‘Ratrat’ Raterta, the unrattled setter non-pareil of the Agilas – was slowly winning the hearts of many discerning fans. So exhilarating were their defensive gems that it was simply impossible not to fall in love with this acrobatic bunch of ‘miracle’ workers.
With everyone allowed 2 imports each, teams could vastly improve their offense and defense, depending on the team’s priority needs. Thus, at the quarter turn, a record 6 teams were bunched with identical 4 wins – 1 loss cards, a clear testament to the balance of the teams. The six protagonists were the Ateneo Lady Eagles, the Arellano Lady Chiefs and the Adamson Lady Falcons in Pool A; and the UST Tigresses, the NU Lady Bulldogs and the Davao Lady Agilas in Pool B.
Problem was, the peaking Adamson Lady Falcons would spoil the party by bumping off the top two crowd-drawers: the high-flying Ateneo Lady Eagles and Davao’s local version, the Lady Agilas. The unheralded Lady Falcons had been given up for dead at the start of the quarterfinals. But with veteran imports Patcharee Sangmuang and league Best Spiker Pau Soriano, and a vastly-improved Bangs Pineda, the Falcons were suddenly showing their deadly form.
And so it was that at the semis, it was NU facing off with the gritty UST, while Adamson would trade bombs with a surprising FEU.
To beef up the defense and complement their already potent offense led by league MVP and Best Server Dindin Santiago, NU brought in as imports a former MVP, setter Rubie De Leon, and veteran digger Jennelyn Reyes. UST matched up with setter Rhea Dimaculangan and the amazing youngster and league Best Scorer, EJ Laure, as imports; complimenting the league Best Blocker Marivic Meneses, league Best Digger Dancel Dusaran, and gunner Pam Lastimosa.
On the other half of the semis’ best of three series, the new darlings Adamson would be squaring off with the FEU Lady Tams, who had just undergone what was arguably the biggest facelift in the tournament, with the acquisition of Army volleyball heavyweights Rachel Anne Daquis and Jovelyn Gonzaga, both former MVPs in their own right. Backing them up were league Best Setter Ina Louise Papa, league Best Receiver Tin Agno, and team top scorer Bernadette Pons.
NU’s Bulldogs made short work of a valiant but totally outclassed UST Tigresses, taking their best-of-three series via a 2-0 sweep. The win was quite costly though, as the Bulldogs lost a main cog in Aiko Urdas to a leg injury.
The FEU Lady Tams, on the other hand, experienced some early problems with the Adamson Lady Falcons. The Falcons rallied from 2 sets down, and a double matchpoint at 22-24 in the 3rd set in their 1st game to win a heartbreaker in five sets: 19-25, 22-25, 26-24, 25-15, 15-12. In Game 2, FEU once again led by 2 sets and had another 24-22 double matchpoint situation, when the Adamson Falcons came back to knot the score at 24-all. Sensing the possibility of another breakdown and the danger of a shift in momentum, coach Shaq de los Santos called for time to calm down his team. This time, Rachel Anne Daquis answered the call as she led her green and yellow crew over the hump, 26-24.
The third and final game would come out another test of wills between the veterans of the teams, with Daquis and Gonzaga going eyeball-to-eyeball against Sangmuang and Soriano. And as the smoke of battle cleared, it was FEU’s green crew prevailing over the Adamson blue 25-22, 25-22, 22-25, 25-22. For the first time in years, FEU – which had never figured to be in the spotlight – was now moving up to the finals to face the menacing NU.
But FEU didn’t stop there. In a surprising turn of events, the FEU Lady Tams came from behind in all 3 sets of Game 1 of the finals to give the NU Lady Bulldogs its first ever 3-set whitewash loss in the tournament. Despite a star-studded line-up starring Dindin and Jaja Santiago, plus Myla Pablo at the firing line, setter Rubie De Leon and libero Jen Reyes tending the defense, NU was bushwhacked by a cool and calm FEU squad 26-24, 26-24, 25-22. Leading the ambush was the Queen Tamaraw herself, Rachel Anne Daquis, with able support from Juvy Gonzaga and Bernie Pons. Suddenly, the greenhorns of FEU – with the solid steering of coach Shaq, and the steady duo of Rachel and Juvy – are on the verge of winning a first-ever V-League crown.
All is not lost for the NU Lady Bulldogs however. It was clearly the breaks of the game that had ruled Game 1. And Game 2 this Sunday could easily blow the opposite direction. For Dindin and her crew, this will be a test of character, of guts and of iron will. For Rachel and company, it’s now winning time. Who will the volleyball gods favor? Who will want that crown more? Whose will shall prevail? Don’t fail to come and watch sizzling summer women’s volleyball action this Sunday at the Filoil Flying V Arena in San Juan!!!
Pictures courtesy of Shakey’s V-League.