V-League Finals: Battle of lungs and wits
ABS-CBN Sports on Jul 22, 2016 12:45 AM
Eventual champion Pocari Sweat and Philippine Air Force made a mark in the V-League after their epic Finals battle.
Unbelievable but true that for all its 13 games in the just-concluded Shakey’s V-League Season 13-Open Conference, newcomer and eventual winner Pocari Sweat drew in throngs of blue and white-shirted, clappers-wielding supporters to wherever the action was, be it at The Arena in San Juan or Philsports Arena in Pasig.
In numbers that could fill almost half of the playing venue to the joy of the organizing Sports Vision they easily out-cheered and out-screamed the followers of the team opposing theirs, fans of the Alyssa Valdez-led Balipure even.
Pocari’s large following didn’t escape the notice of Philippine Air Force new and first-time head coach Jasper Jimenez, whose Lady Jet Spikers swept Team Laoag in the semifinal playoff to forge the best-of-three title showdown with the Pocari Sweat Lady Warriors and its mentor, Rommel Abella, a first-time head coach as well. During training for the finals, Jimenez kept drilling into his players’ heads not to be rattled by the deafening cheers of Pocari’s supporters.
But someone within the Air Force community did not just harp on coach Jimenez’s repeated reminders to his team. He or she took matters into his or her own hands especially when the Lady Jet Spikers won Game 1 of the championship series all staged at Philsports Arena in an edge-of-the-seat five-setter. That person made sure they were not outnumbered by the Pocari supporters for the games that mattered the most.
For Game 1 of the finals, blue and yellow-shirted enlisted Air Force men and their families and friends occupied in large number the upper box section across the court from where the Pocari throngs, even larger this time, were seated. More fans of both teams turned up for Game 2, which Pocari took in four sets.
For the no-more-tomorrow Game 3, Sports Vision board chairman Moying Martelino reported to colleagues that he spotted at least 10 Air Force trucks parked inside the Philsports grounds. Those trucks, he was told, had come in early, transporting the Airmen and Airwomen in uniforms, their families and team supporters, to the knockout game that could give the Lady Jet Spikers their first ever Shakey’s V-League championship.
Into the room allotted for Sports Vision and its officials and staff still walked a representative from Pocari and Air Force to collect at least 300 tickets each had reserved for their side.
A bigger number of Air Force supporters showed up for Game 3, but Pocari still had more. Tumultuous cheers rose up in the air as the Lady Warriors went on to win the game again in four sets and the title on its maiden appearance in the nation’s longest-running league in women’s volleyball.
First-time head coaches
Sports Vision president Ricky Palou congratulated both teams for having sparked with their classic title playoff encounters a fresh wave of interest in women’s volleyball. He also tipped his hat off to the two first-time head coaches who met in the finals.
Rommel Abellana of Pocari, listed as assistant coach in his team’s lineup, was thrust into the position of head coach when the listed mentor, Thai Tai Bundit of the Ateneo Lady Blue Eagles, did not appear on the Pocari bench from the get-go.
Abella, 37, now assistant coach of the UST men’s team, played for the Growling Tigers and shared, under coach Emil Lontoc, in two UAAP championships. He distinguished himself by becoming the most popular school league’s first Best Libero in its history.
Jimenez, 42, and a two-time national player, was taken this year from the coaching staff of the Air Force men’s team to take over as coach of the women’s squad. The Lady Jet Spikers love his jolly and cool style of coaching. His shoulders slumped in dejection over his team’s defeat in Game 3, he waved to the Air Force crowd as he left the court to join his charges in the locker room prior to the awarding ceremony.
A writer stood in his way, extending a hand out for a congratulatory handshake.
“Coach,” the writer began, “don’t feel let down. Remember that you are the only one from a long list of coaches before you who was the first to bring the Lady Jet Spikers to a V-League finals.”
As he pumped the coach’s hand vigorously, Jimenez broke into one of his patented bright smiles to reveal even, white teeth just perfect for a toothpaste ad, while exuberantly thanking the latter.