Will We Witness the Changing of the Guards at Shakey’s?

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It’s youth against experience in Shakey’s Finals. (courtesy of philstar.com)

Perhaps it is time.

From the kingdom of the airwaves, a new breed of amazon warriors has emerged.  The PLDT Ultra Fast Hitters, its mainstays fresh from scoring a creditable finish in the Asian U-23 Championships, started like a house on fire; their gunners mowing down the opposition mercilessly, erecting a spotless 10-0 record enroute to the Shakey’s V-League Finals. Led by a booming beast named Alyssa Valdez, and ably supported by the upcoming Jaja Santiago, the athletic Gretchel Soltones, Sue Roces and Rubie De Leon, the PLDT Hitters clearly epitomize the youthful exuberance that has endeared them to the juvenile crowd.

Facing them across the net are the old guards, the Army’s Lady Troopers, who have been the toast of the kingdom for the past years. Powered by a bevy of former MVPs Rachel Daquis, Juvy Gonzaga, Dindin Santiago Manabat, Ging Balse, Tina Salak and Nene Bautista, the Troopers jealously guard the throne, ready to match wits against their worthy challenger; refusing to believe their time is up.

Meeting the upstart Hitters twice in the preliminary round, the Troopers finished with their heads bowed; bloodied but not battered. Has youth finally trumped experience? Nay, the Troopers vehemently deny. Now, when everything matters most, they hope to change the outcome of the many storylines.

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The young guns, poised and ready to take the crown. (courtesy of gmanetwork.com)

Storyline 1 is about the battle between youth and experience. It is a battle between the present and the future. On one hand, PLDT’s youngsters – taller, quicker, and more agile – will use power, speed, athletic ability and mental toughness to obliterate a dynasty long overdue. On the other, Army’s grizzled vets – more wily, more experienced, less emotional – will use guile, a deeper bench and a tested teamwork to try to push back the hands of time.

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Alluring Alyssa, today’s Face of Women’s Volleyball. (courtesy of gunsbase.com)
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Ravishing Rachel, the previous Face of Women’s Volleyball. (courtesy of citiesgallery.com)

Storyline 2 is about the Face of Women’s Volleyball. Alluring Alyssa is today’s darling of the crowd. That crown used to belong to the Ravishing Rachel.  Both have made their marks as league MVPs. Hence we not only have the beauties, we have the best. Come and watch as volleyball’s best trade booms with blocks, exchange spikes with saves, and dish out dinks and digs. Who will bedazzle, and who will beguile?

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This time, the Santiago sisters are on opposite sides of the net. (courtesy of shakey’s)

Storyline 3 talks about the Santiago sisters, Dindin and Jaja. Din was arguably the family’s volleyball luminary. She was the mentor, the doting ate, the exalted one. Not anymore, as Jaja has been showing great strides after her stint in the U-23. And she is ready to challenge.  For the first time, they are on opposite sides of the net, eyeball to eyeball, both hungry for a prize that can no longer be shared. No disrespect, a grateful Jaja accepts, but her time must also come.

The young guns of PLDT entered the finals brimming with confidence. Coach Roger Gorayeb has the manpower and the weaponry, and the manner they mangled the opposing forces during the prelims is proof enough of the devastating power they are capable of mustering.

But the veteran Troopers are unperturbed. To them, the Finals are a totally different story. Coach Rico De Guzman reckons that all he needs is an antidote to simply normalize Alyssa’s numbers, and PLDT’s cloak of invincibility would be dismantled.

Last Thursday, the two protagonists finally met for Game 1 of Shakey’s version of the Game of Thrones. Immediately, the orange-clad Hitters swarmed the green and yellow Troopers, annexing the 1st set in dominant fashion 13-25. The Troopers looked dazed and disorganized as the Hitters blitzed their way to victory.

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The PLDT offensive machinery was humming so efficiently at the start of set 1, which PLDT won handily 25-13. (courtesy of tiebreaaker times)

But the Lady Troopers regrouped in time, capitalizing on good blocking, to outlast the Hitters in the 2nd set 25-23. With the win, the Troopers somehow found an inner strength to carry on.

Despite PLDT’s superior serves, the Army Ladies would stay close to their coattails. They would hang tough, unmindful of the booming caroms Alyssa delivered, and dishing their own in return. Down 22-24 on the third set, the Army displayed its true character, stealing the set 27-25 to the disappointment of the PLDT fans. Juvy Gonzaga epitomized the team’s true grit and dogged determination with saves bordering on wizardry. She provided the inspiration, and gifted her teammates with the elixir taken from the fountain of youth.

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The ‘Bionic Gwapa’ was the catalyst that changed the game’s complexion. (courtesy of philstar.com)

Bolstered by their character wins in the 2nd and 3rd sets, the other aspects in the Army’s game started to fall in place. Service errors, the bane in their 1st set loss, were rectified. Service returns, another  weakness, improved. The Army was now on a roll, and it was PLDT’s turn to feel vulnerable. PLDT tried to keep in step with the miraculous plays of the Army, but the Army could no longer be denied. The tide had turned. The 4th set closed at 25-22. The Army has it. For now.

This Sunday, PLDT tries to rediscover the magic that brought them 10 murderous wins in the previous rounds. The Army, on the other hand, tries to prove their victory in Game 1 was no fluke. The series is becoming interesting. It is power against guile, skill against game smarts. Woman’s volleyball, dear friends, is truly on the rise.

Shall we have a change-over ceremony soon? It all depends on which group craves it more. Be there to find out.

(Pictures courtesy of sportsgateway.ph, rivals.ph, gmanetwork.com, tiebreakertimes.com, philstar.com)

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