The PLDT Home Ultera Ultra Fast Hitters are the new darlings of the Shakey’s V-League Open Conference, dethroning the Philippine Army Lady Troopers, 25-22, 18-25, 24-26, 28-26, 15-13, before a sellout crowd last Sunday at the San Juan Arena.
In the end, it was the breaks of the game that decided the winner, as the two evenly-matched protagonists tried to outbomb, outblock and finally, outgasp each other in a marathon game of seesawing fortunes.
The results of the first two sets cancelled each other out, with both parties taking a win each. Only the second set – which the Lady Troopers won 25-18 – would be decided by a comfortable margin, a clear testament to the grind-it-to-the-ground play that characterized the action on the court.
The Lady Troopers snatched the 3rd set in dramatic fashion 26-24, thus putting the Hitters on the brink of defeat. With this, pundits were quick to hail the grit and tenacity of the veterans in the Army squad. The end was near. When push comes to shove, the Army veterans, led by feisty nationals Juvy Gonzaga and Dindin Santiago-Manabat, would eventually force their will over the youngsters of PLDT, the false prophets claimed. Indeed, the Army Lady Troopers were once again poised to rule the kingdom as the queens of serve-and-volley. Or so it seemed.
For the young Hitters would refuse to wilt under pressure. Led by league MVP, Alyssa Valdez, whose renowned mental toughness was molded by the legendary Thai coach and exorcist Tai Bundit, the Hitters would strike back. Aly would savage the Troopers with ram-it-down-your-throat missile spikes. And when she would get triple canopy coverage from Army’s vaunted frontline defense, fellow U-23 standouts Jaja Santiago and Gretch Soltones would provide back-up sniper fire to keep the Army defenders guessing. With their backs against the wall, the Ultra Fast Hitters would outwit the Troopers 28-26, thanks to Rubie De Leon’s superb ball distribution, forcing a final set to the delight of the jampacked crowd.
Thus, it would be a do-or-die game as the Hitters and Troopers met fire with fire; flirting with glory and ignominy; giving and receiving no quarters in return. The battle would become an epic struggle between offense and defense, with the Hitters clearly winning the spike stats 63-49, while the Troopers would lord over the blocks 19-4. The battle for net supremacy would be at its fiercest, with sisters Dindin and Jaja not even on speaking terms across the net. For every spike, a diving save. For every boom, a resounding block.
But, like all other games, there must be a winner. And so, in the babel of cheers and jeers from the frenzied crowd, a simple tap-back from the unlikely Finals MVP Jaja Santiago would end it all. And all hell would break loose. The PLDT Ultra Fast Hitters had nipped the Army Lady Troopers 15-13, bringing the final, last-gasp set to its final, heart-stopping conclusion.
There was laughter, and there were tears. It was exhausting, yet exciting. It was exhilarating and exulting. There was drama, there was delirium. This is how the Shakey’s V-League Open Conference Finals was meant to be. This is how the changing of the guards must finally come to pass. Climactic in its delivery, majestic in all its dignity, and a truly unforgettable experience for all.
The queen is dead. Long live the Queen!
Photos courtesy of v-league.ph, gma news online, tiebreakertimes.com, rivals.ph, spin.ph, Arvin Lim)