Is Pocari Sweat out to start a dynasty in women’s volleyball?

Is Pocari Sweat out to start a dynasty?
Is Pocari Sweat building a dynasty in the V-League?

The young ballclub already did by going 2-0 in the two Shakey’s V-League Conferences it competed in this year as the new kid on the block.   

The Lady Warriors struck from behind to defeat Philippine Air Force, 2-1, in the best-of-three finals of the V-League Season 13-Open Conference in July to position themselves as an emerging power in Philippine women’s volleyball.   

Monday last they pounded the Alyssa Valdez-led Bureau of Customs Lady Transformers into submission in four sets, 25-14, 25-10, 22-25, 25-23, to sweep the season-ending Reinforced Conference title series and confirm Pocari’s status as a major power now in the sport. The Lady Warriors were even merciless in Game 1, which it took, 25-22, 25-18, 25-18.   

Read between the lines: Pocari, unlike most ballclubs which regroup when a tournament comes along and immediately disband after it ends, is here to stay. Meaning, says Shinichi Suzuki, president and managing director of the firm manufacturing and distributing the sports drink locally, Pocari Sweat will have its team continue training till the next season next year of the Sports Vision-organized V-League set to begin in late March or early April.

Suzuki, in effect, is issuing this message to the rest of the teams -- the Lady Warriors will be sharper and more solid the next time around. Be more prepared for Pocari, he seems to be telling the opposition.     

Two top officials of Sports Vision, which counts on its partnership with Accel as the league’s official outfitter and Mikasa as the official ball, said the steady presence of Pocari Sweat will be good to Philippine volleyball in the long run.

“By keeping and training its team all year round Pocari will definitely help further upgrade the quality of women’s volleyball hereabouts,” said Moying Martelino, Sports Vision board chairman and one of its founding fathers. “We thank the Pocari management for continuously supporting V League, where, we are proud to say, it all started.”  

“Like all the players taking part in the V-League, the Lady Warriors will keep inspiring countless others to excel in the sport as well and eventually be part of Shakey’s V-League and the national teams,” said Ricky Palou, president and cofounder of Sports Vision.  “It will all redound to the uplift of Philippine women’s volleyball to at least the Asian level.”

 

Arch rivalry     

Primarily because of the presence of ex-La Salle Lady Spikers Michelle Gumabao and Melissa Gohing on its lineup, Pocari was primed to develop intense rivalry against any team that’d smell of Ateneo.

All their matches with fellow V-League newcomer Balipure, which reunited the Ateneo UAAP graduates led by Valdez, in the eight-team 2016 Open Conference filled up playing venues. It was a surprise to many that the plastic clapper-wielding Pocari fans, among them Mr. Suzuki himself, were able to match the established Lady Blue Eagles’ and Valdez’ own fans in number.      

The Lady Warriors began their campaign in grand fashion, piling up six straight wins in the eliminations including outlasting the Water Defenders in five sets, 21-25, 6-25, 26-24, 27-25, 19-17, which saw the birth of the Pocari-Balipure feud. They met again in a separate semifinal playoff, with Balipure, riding high on Valdez’ 24-point binge, drawing first blood in straight sets, 25-20, 25-19, 26-24.   

Stung into action, Pocari, starring the triumvirate of Myla Pablo, Gumabao and Elaine Kasilag, retaliated and took Game 2 in another extended game, 25-23, 13-25, 25-23, 21-25, 15-8, and Game 3 in four sets, 15-25, 27-25, 25-11, 25-23. And the title in their first ever tournament.

The Pocari management was later reported to have taken the team on a trip to Hong Kong as part of the players’ championship bonuses.

For the just-concluded Reinforced Conference, Mr. Suzuki didn’t cut corners. As he had promised, he brought in two foreign guest players in Americans Breanna Lee Mackie and Andrea Kay Kacsits. Mackie turned out to be the finest of the imports when she was chosen the league’s Best Foreign Guest Player. Gumabao was crowned Best Opposite Spiker and Finals MVP.   

Valdez left her Ateneo teammates on Balipure after the Open Conference to suit up for the Lady Transformers of the Bureau of Customs. Fans now had a three-cornered battle among Gumabao, Gohing & Co. on Pocari, Valdez on BoC, and Ateneo alumna Charo Soriano, Denden Lazaro, Charo Soriano, Dzi Gervacio, and Amy Ahomiro on Balipure to salivate over.  

With Gumabao, Pablo and Gohing providing solid support for Mackie and Kacsits, the Lady Warriors did not give Valdez and the Lady Transformers, extra-powered by Thai imports Kanjana Kuthaisong and setter Nattahanicha Jaisaen, much of a chance in their first encounter, winning in three sets in the preliminaries. The Water Defenders and their cavalry of former Lady Eagles only managed a set against the Lady Warriors before losing, 16-25, 25-12, 21-25, 19-25.

Pocari led the Final four casting which included University of Santo Tomas’ all-Filipino lineup. The Lady Warriors swept the surprising Tigresses in their semifinal playoff and the Lady Transformers, beaten in Game 1, overtook the Water Defenders in the next two to arrange that blockbuster title series with the Lady Warriors, whose following seemed to increase after every game.     

A record crowd saw the Lady Warriors entrench their place in women’s volleyball history as Sports Vision brought down the curtains on another season of huge success, its 13th as of the last count.

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