POCARI SWEAT: From struggles to jubilation
Mark Escarlote on Jul 18, 2016 10:58 PM
This is the story of Pocari Sweat Lady Warriors, the newly-crowned queens of the 13th V-League Open Conference.
Pocari Sweat assistant coach Rommel Abella saw the birth pains of the team way back when they were in a different league.
They were beaten black and blue by stronger oppositions.
The frustrations and struggles proved to be the chisel and mallet that sculpted the squad on its way to a long delayed glory.
Monday night, in front of their avid supporters at the PhilSports Arena in Pasig City, the Lady Warriors finally crowned themselves queens of the 13th V-League Open Conference.
The Lady Warriors outlasted the Philippine Air Force Jet Spikers, 29-27, 18-25, 25-21, 25-19, in the decider of the best-of-three series to complete Pocari Sweat’s dramatic comeback from a 0-1 series deficit.
“From the start nakita ko na struggles ng team,” recalled Abella, who in their first year in the V-League took the steering wheel with head coach Thai Tai Bundit never getting any chance to sit on the bench despite being listed as the team’s mentor.
The team transferred to the league from the Philippine Superliga just last summer, dropping their former club name Philips Gold Lady Slammers into Pocari Sweat.
“’Yung ibang players d’yan gaya ni (Sarah Jane) Espelita from Mane ‘N Tail pa namin sila kasama so this is extra special sa amin na mga nanggaling pa dati (sa Mane ‘N Tail),” said Abella, who won two titles in the UAAP playing for University of Sto. Tomas.
Espelita, Rossan Fajardo, elder sister of De La Salle’s Kim Fajardo, and now assistant coach Ara Mallare are the remaining remnants of the original squad.
In the PSL, the team (Mane ‘N Tail) finished sixth in the 2014 Grand Prix before getting a boost in the off season with the acquisition of Michele Gumabao, Melissa Gohing and National University hotshot Myla Pablo and changed its name to Philips Gold. The Lady Slammers finished third both in the 2015 All-Filipino and Grand Prix before their transfer.
“Kami talagang tatlo ang magkasama na nag-start sa sixth place to third place (sa PSL) and then ngayon (champion).”
Fire from within
The team decided to leave PSL to try their luck in the V-League.
They carried Pocari Sweat and Francis Vicente was replaced by Bundit.
Even with just a limited time of preparation, Abella felt that the team is destined to claim greatness.
“Napansin ko pa lang noong nabuo kami,” he said.
“Nabuo lang kasi kami a week prior to the tournament. Instantly parang nag-click ang mga players na wala namang ginagawa na special sa training and stuff,” Abella added. “Napansin lang namin at ng management na this is different doon sa other teams na nahawakan namin mas buo ngayon and mas masaya, yun lang.”
The team racked up victory after victory.
But the Lady Warriors faced a tough challenge when midway into the single-round elimination round Pablo and Gumabao suffered injuries that sidelined them for two weeks.
Pablo went down with a back injury she suffered while in training while Gumabao was forced to sit out two games with an abdominal strain.
The absence of the two hitters gave the likes of Fajardo, Siemens Dadang, Maricar Nepomuceno and Lutgarda Malaluan a chance to prove their worth as they gave Elaine Kasilag, one of Pocari Sweat’s troika of scorers with Pablo and Gumabao, the much needed support to carry the team.
Pablo and Gumabao returned in a marquee match with the Alyssa-Valdez led BaliPure winning in five-sets.
With a heavy schedule in the last week of elims, weary and tired Pocari Sweat’s winning run ended at the hands of the Jet Spikers in four set – a loss that sent the Lady Warriors into a dangerous collision with BaliPure in the best-of-three semifinals.
While Air Force breezed past Laoag, Pocari Sweat needed to climb out of a 0-1 series hole to clinch the last finals berth.
In the championshoip round, Air Force took the series opener, 17-25, 25-20, 15-25, 26-24, 15-11, last Wednesday before the Lady Warriors equalized in Game 2 last Saturday, 17-25, 25-22, 25-14, 25-20, to force a decider.
Game 3 was the stage of the “Comeback Queens” and they owned it.
“Prior to the game kinausap ko ang mga players sa dugout ang sabi ko, “Since nandito na tayo at do-or-die game na naman and nabansagan na rin naman sila na Comeback Queens. Sabi ko patunayan na natin,”” said Abella.
“Sabi ko, “Galing na tayo sa 0-1 deficit sa series, patunayan na natin na Comback Queens talaga kayo ang prove natin sa mga tao na kaya nating manalo.”
And they did.
Looking back at the team’s first practice, Abella recalled how warm his players were with each other.
He knew from within that each of his wards had in them the blazing desire to win.
“’Yun ang nakita namin na masaya ang grupo na ito. Buti na lang nag-translate into a championship,” he said.
Boy, was he so right.
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