Slam-bang action ushers in the PVL quarterfinals

ABS-CBN Sports on May 31, 2017 12:58 PM
Slam-bang action ushers in the PVL quarterfinals
PUSO! -- This seems to be the battle cry of Myla Pablo (No. 18), one of the nationís most prolific spikers, as she, suffering from a terrible attack of back spasms only two weeks ago, returned on the court Saturday to lead the Lady Warriors to victory over the Lady Jet Spikers at the start of the quarterfinals of the Premier Volleyball League Reinforced Conference. (Photo by Azcharey Cabrera)

Wearing their big hearts on their sleeves and their amazing resiliency like an armor, Alyssa Valdez and Myla Pablo, both hounded lately by injuries, on Saturday bravely brushed aside fears of more injuries when they powered their respective teams to morale-boosting, first victories at the slam-bang opening of the quarterfinals in the Premier Volleyball League Reinforced Conference.     

With four teams scrambling for the remaining two places in the semifinals for which the Balipure Water Defenders and the gritty Power Smashers already qualified, first-day quarterfinal action yielded a pair of five-set cliffhangers in favor of Pablo’s Pocari Sweat squad over Philippine Air Force and Valdez’s Creamline team over Perlas.    

Ralph Nunez, a roly-poly, young businessman from Tanza, Cavite, watched Saturday’s PVL action on TV and waited till after the conclusion of the last of the quarterfinal doubleheader between Creamline and Perlas before he dug into a late dinner.

Both games, he said, were that super exciting.

“I’m no fan of Pablo and Valdez, but with the way they rose above very real fears of aggravating their old injuries, I have nothing but the highest commendations for both,” said Nunez, a La Salle-Taft magna cum laude and an avid volleyball fan.

“I expect more such edge-of-the-seat finishes in the PVL from now on given that all the quarterfinalists seem to have made much-needed adjustments to further sharpen their spurs,” he added.     

Jean Gotingco, a self-employed craftswoman from San Juan City and a fiercely loyal Valdez fan, corroborated Nunez’s observation.

“It’s a genius’ move for coach Tai (Bundit) to convert open spiker Francesca Racraquin into a libero, thereby solving Creamline’s problems with first balls in one fell swoop. Racraquin, by the way, is delivering exceptionally well in her new position. More good first balls will greatly help Alex (Cabanos) make excellent sets for the Cool Smashers.”

Valdez has kept inspiring her fellow Cool Smashers by turning up for every game and playing with her patented never-say-die spirit despite the constant threats posed by her sprain-prone ankle and troublesome hamstring.  

It didn’t escape the attention of the armchair analysts, who are plenty, that in the quarterfinal opening match against the Perlas Spikers, Cabanos dished out more sets to her other attackers than Valdez in an obvious attempt to protect the Creamline franchise player.

But whom did she turn to when the Cool Smashers needed only two points to close out the fifth set and sew up the match? To the superstar, of course, whose two straight down-the-line scorchers took out the fight for good from the rallying Perlas Spikers.   

Pablo’s return to the court after missing a few games to rest her back undoubtedly raised the spirits of the Lady Warriors. But in between sets against the Lady Jet Spikers, their tormentors in their last elimination match, coach Rommel Abella had to keep asking Pablo if she could still carry on to which her go-to-player had a stock answer, “Kaya ko pa coach.”

It’s more of Pablo’s heart and true grit that really sustained her throughout the marathon thriller. She gained everyone’s nod with her stellar 28-point output.


Team adjustments  

One of Abella’s marked adjustments is his utilization of more bench players to rest his usual starters, Jessey de Leon as temporarily reliever for middle blocker Siemens Dadang and Fille Cainglet-Cayetano as a service specialist and a no-nonsense floor defender in the back.

Another adjustment that has worked wondrously well for the Lady Warriors, back-to-back champions in the 2016 V League, is Abella’s giving the more consistent Kai Nepomuceno longer playing time than the originally starting Elaine Kasilag.    

Over at the Perlas Spikers’ camp, which is greatly benefiting from the services of Brazilian Rupia Inck and Naoko Hashimoto, who had played for Japan in a Grand Prix event, coach Jerry Yee has been placing more and more confidence lately in young sensation Diana Carlos, the durable and former NCAA MVP Sasa Devanadera, and the consistently performing Amanda Villanueva, who is also a terrific back defender.      

Air Force coach Jasper Jimenez is sticking to his usual big guns made up of incredible setter Wendy Semana, the vastly-improved Iari Yongco, Joy Cases, middle attackers Angel Antipuesto and Jocemer Tapic, and ageless Thai import Patcharee Saengmuang. He has more ammunition at his disposal with the late addition of tall and tested Lileth Mabbayad. 

A weak starter in the first round of the six-team eliminations, the Lady Jet Spikers caught fire in their final preliminary match against the Lady Warriors minus Pablo, forcing Air Force into a 6-15 meltdown in the rubber set to post only their second win in 10 outings during the qualifying stage.     

“The Lady Jet Spikers are peaking at the right time and will be a fearsome opponent from now on,” observed coach Nes Pamilar of the Power Smashers. “Balipure and my team may have qualified early for the semifinals, but coach Roger (Gorayeb of the Water Defenders) and I will be up against really, really tough crossover assignments in the next stage of the PVL. The semifinals will be even more explosive, I tell you.”

Depending on their rankings, each of the top two finishers in the quarterfinals will play the No. 1 seed Balipure Water Defenders or the Power Smashers in separate best-of-three playoffs in the semis.   

Will it be first-day quarterfinal winners Creamline and Pocari Sweat?

Or opening losers Air Force and Perlas?

Take your pick.

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