Air Force, Cignal resume title rivalry

ABS-CBN Sports on Jun 10, 2017 10:45 AM
Air Force, Cignal resume title rivalry
Philippine Air Force look to win in third straight title against Cignal.

For the fourth time in three years, the Philippine Air Force Jet Spikers and the Cignal Tv HD Spikers dispute a title again on Saturday, June 10, at Philsports Arena, this time in the finals of the new Premier Volleyball League.

Air Force, now beefed up by three young National University Bulldogs, carry a 2-1 advantage over Cignal, a team touting a new coach with a rich collegiate championship tradition, in their three previous finals meetings which began in 2015.

The powerful Jet Spikers came back in grand style last year, sweeping both the Open and Reinforced Conference championships of the now disbanded Spikers’ Turf at the expense of the HD Spikers after losing the Reinforced Conference finals to the same squad in the same league a year before.

Counting their preliminary matchup in the PVL First Conference this year, coach Rhovyl Verayo’s Jet Spikers hold a commanding, morale-boosting 11-4 lead in their head-to-head duels in all Sports Vision-organized tournaments since 2015.


The Jet Spikers

The Air Force Jet Spikers, led by 2016 back-to-back Best Setter Jessie Lopez (No. 17) and backstopped by young and talented National University Bulldogs Fauzi Ismail, Bryan Bagunas and Kim Malabunga, are shooting for their third straight championship against the Cignal Tv HD Spikers.

Something just wasn’t right when Air Force bowed to Army, its favorite whipping boy, in Game 1 of their separate seminal series in the opening conference of the PVL, a joint event of Sports Vision as organizer, Asics as official league partner, and Mikasa as official game ball.

The Jet Spikers lost, 23-25, 22-25, 25-21, 20-25, despite the combined 36-point output of NU Bulldogs Ismail Fauzi, Bryan Bagunas and Kim Malabunga. Curiously in this match, coach Verayo benched his ace setter, the multi-awarded Jessie Lopez, in the third and fourth sets.

But Lopez again called the shots in Game 2, which saw his team dispatch Army in a jiffy, 25-17, 25-18, 25-20.

A sluggish, seemingly rusty Air Force showed up for Game 3 and got the scare of their lives when the inspired Troopers, in their first semifinals ever, thumped them  in the first two sets. But the Jet Spikers regrouped in the next three behind the  55-point production of the three exciting Bulldogs to squeeze out a 24-26, 21-25, 25-20, 25-21, 15-9 decision and advance to the finals yet again.

A problem, it turned out, has really been hounding the Jet Setters.

For over two months now, according to coach Verayo, they have no gym to train in. “We were not able to practise during the Apec summit here,” said he. “All my players were deployed for the event and when it was over, our gym (inside Villamor Air Base) is unavailable as it is stocked up with relief goods for the flood victims and now for the displaced people in Mindanao.”

“All we’ve been doing is run and do conditioning exercises,” confirmed Jet Setter Ran-Ran Abdilla, a member of the 2017 national team along with Bagunas.

Coach Verayo was keeping his fingers crossed that he could find a training venue for his squad on the eve of the finals.


The HD Spikers

The HD Spikers feel light and easy after their four-set taming of the Sta. Elena Wrecking Balls, 27-25, 24-26, 25-16, 26-24, in Game 3 of their semifinal playoff.

“First of all, let me say I’m very happy for making the finals in my first coaching job in commercial volleyball,” said coach Oliver Almadro, who took over the mentorship of the Cignal Tv HD Spikers after steering the Ateneo Blue Eagles to their third consecutive title in the UAAP last season.

The highly emotional and articulate coach was visibly on cloud nine after his wards polished off the Sta. Elena Wrecking Balls in their extended semifinal matchup after splitting the first two games. He vigorously shook hands, traded high fives or hugged each of his men for a job well done that Thursday afternoon.

Though he said he was happy over his new team’s performance in Game 3, he thought the HD Spikers could still show some more cohesiveness on the court.

“They are definitely still in the process of adjusting to my system unlike the Air Force players who have been together a lot longer than us. Even the NU boys on the team are now used to the Air Force system, their NU coach (Dante Alinsunurin) being a part of that system.

“As long as my men don’t give up easily, we will give them a good fight in the finals.”

His predecessor had guided the HD Spikers to three finals meetings against the Jet Setters since 2015 when Cignal, down by a match in their championship series in the Spikers’ Turf Reinforced Conference, triumphed in the next two games both in straight sets, 25-16, 25-17, 25-18 in Game 2 and 25-17, 32-30, 25-23, to capture the title.

Cignal lost in the Open and Reinforced Conference finals in 2016, unable to win a set over Air Force in the Jet Spikers’ decisive title victories in both.

The HD Spikers also lost in their first meeting this year in the elimination round of the PVL, 30-28, 25-19, 25-21, their 11th defeat at the hands of the Jet Spikers in 15 matches so far.

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