A look back at PHI volleyball in 2019 (Part 2)
Mark Escarlote on Dec 27, 2019 09:46 AM
Here’s look back at the most memorable PHI volleyball moments in the year that was.
The end of the decade turned out to be one of the best years for Philippine volleyball.
From exciting action, rivalries, glorious moments, inspiring stories and historic accomplishments to controversies and heartbreaks, 2019 was a colorful year both for the players and volleyball fans.
With the turn of the decade just days away, let’s look back at the most memorable PHI volleyball moments in the year that was.
The Premier Volleyball League’s third season saw an invasion of high caliber foreign players for its Reinforced Conference.
The season-opening tournament also saw the return of BaliPure after skipping the Open Conference the previous season. The Philippine Army made its debut under PacificTown while Motolite fielded its first full club after sponsoring Ateneo de Manila University the previous conference.
Star-studded Creamline came in as the title favorite after its dominating sweep of Season 2’s import-laden and Open conferences with the return of Thai import Kuttika Kaewpin and Venezuelan Aleoscar Blanco.
But PetroGazz, which was just in its second year, turned heads when American Janisa Johnson and Cuban Wilma Salas led the Angels to a shocking straight sets upset over the Cool Smashers that ignited their seven-game winning run.
Creamline was able to avenge its first game loss in the elims second round as the two squads landed in the top two spots in the semis.
Jovelyn Gonzaga made her return to volleyball action after two years of being sidelined by a knee injury and military service for Army. With balik-import Lena Lymareva-Flink of Ukraine and American Jenelle Jordan at the helm, the Lady Troopers made a great elims run to occupy the third semis seat.
BanKo, which was plagued by internal issues and inconsistencies throughout their elims campaign, replaced their imports Turk Yasemin Yildirim and American Lakia Bright with Thai Sutadta Chuewulim and Stiix Horton and barely made it to the Final Four.
The Angels easily swept the Perlas Spikers in the semis and the Cool Smashers earned their third straight Finals appearance with a dominating best-of-three series win over the lady Troopers.
Pitted against the eventual Conference MVP Alyssa Valdez-bannered Creamline, first time finalist PetroGazz crumbled under pressure in the opening game despite winning the extended first set as the Angels bowed down in four frames.
But PetroGazz was quick to adjust as the Angels equalized to force a series decider.
Game 3 was a thrilling affair as both teams went in motivated to win but it was PetroGazz’s desire to make history that prevailed with the Angels dragging Creamline off the throne.
Johnson bagged the Finals MVP award while Salas was named Best Import.
The battle for third also went the full distance with Army stealing the bronze in a come-from-behind five-set win capped by a dramatic service winner by Gonzaga.
For the first time in three years, the league simultaneously held the Collegiate Conference and Open Conference.
Twelve teams joined the short collegiate tournament.
A rookie-laden Adamson University and University of Sto. Tomas swept their respective groups and wee joined College of St. Benilde and Ateneo de Manila University in the Final Four.
CSB surprised Adamson with a five-set win in their series opener but the Lady Falcons took the next two games to earn a finals seat.
UST, on the other hand, faced Ateneo in a rematch of the UAAP Finals. The Tigresses also lost Game 1 but came back in the next two matches for a championship seat.
Adamson led by rookie setter Louie Romero and sophomore Trisha Genesis completed a series sweep of UST bannered by Eya Laure and sister EJ Laure, who made her return after a two-year hiatus because of a shoulder injury.
Ateneo took the third place. Genesis was named Conference MVP while Romero got the Finals MVP plum.
For the first time, PVL fielded nine teams in the double-round robin Open Conference.
Philippine Air Force made its return while ChocoMucho, which was bannered by Kat Tolentino, Maddie Madayag and Bea De Leon, and Chef’s Classics debuted as the newest teams in the field.
Creamline swept the 16-game elims and PetroGazz, which during the conference also played in a pocket tournament in Taiwan, landed at second place.
BanKo and Motolite led by a healthy Myla Pablo also entered the Final Four.
The semis pairings were one-sided affairs as the Cool Smashers and Angels set up a Finals rematch.
But unlike in the Reiforced Conference, Creamline proved too much for PetroGazz as the Cool Smashers completed a rare conference sweep.
Jema Galanza was named Conference MVP while Jia Morado got the Finals MVP and her fifth straight Best Setter award.
The Philippine Superliga opened its seventh season with the staging of the Grand Prix.
Eight teams participated in the import-laden tournament with Petron backed by Kat Bell and Stephanie Niemer sweeping its ways to the first semifinals seat.
After a shaky start, Petron’s archrival F2 Logistics, bannered by Lindsay Stalzer and Venezuelan MJ Perez, who replaced Becca Perry, made it to the semis as well as PLDT and Cignal.
Petron and F2 Logistics set up another Finals meeting.
The Cargo Movers snapped the Blaze Spikers’ 16-game winning run in the series opener before Petron recovered in the next two to claim its second straight Grand Prix crown.
PLDT claimed the bronze medal
Niemer was named MVP.
United Volleyball Club disbanded after the Grand Prix and its setter Alohi Robins-Hardy transferred to Cignal while top hitter Kalei Mau signed with F2 Logistics for the All-Filipino Conference.
The rest of the players either jumped to the PVL or transferred to other PSL clubs.
Marinerang Pilipina joined the league.
Petron lost only one game in the elims to earn a twice-to-beat advantage but suffered a major upset as Cignal led by Jovelyn Gonzaga and Mylene Paat booted out the Blaze Spikers in the semis in two five-setter games.
F2 Logistics swept Foton in the other Final Four pairing.
The Finals opener was an exciting clash for Cignal and F2 Logistics with the Cargo Movers surviving a five-set match. F2 Logistics banked on its experience and firepower to finish off Cignal in the second game.
Petron salvaged bronze.
The Invitational tournament saw another F2 Logistics-Petron clash for the crown.
The knockout format went the full distance as the Cargo Movers prevailed over the Blaze Spikers in a tight five-set decision.
Cignal took home the third place.
As part of its preparation for the 30th Southeast Asian Games, the Philippine men’s volleyball team participated in the Reinforced Conference.
The format allowed members of the Nationals to play for their respective clubs when playing against the PHI team.
The Marck Espejo-led Cignal and the Bryan Bagunas-bannered Philippine Air Force figured in the Finals with the HD Spikers taking down the Jet Spikers in two games to claim the throne.
Cignal again dominated the 24-team Open Conference to complete a season sweep.
The Beach Volleyball Republic continued with its advocacy to elevate the level of play of the sport in the country with tournaments all around the country.
The country also hosted the FIVB beach volleyball world tour Boracay Open where the highly-touted duo of Bernadeth Pons and Sisi Rondina wound up in 5th place.
Pons and Rondina’s Petron XCS ruled the PSL Beach Challenge Cup while Edmar Bonono and Ranran Abdilla of Cignal reigned supreme in the men’s side.
In the UAAP, UST won a golden double in Season 82.
Babylove Barbon and Gen Eslapor stretched the Tigresses championship streak to four straight while Jaron Requinton and Rancel Varga completed the Tigers’ back-to-back title bid.
In the SEA Games, the pair of Pons and Rondina and the tandem of Dzi Gervacio and Dij Rodriguez delivered bronze while the men’s squad of Edmar Bonono and Jude Garcia and Jaron Requinton and James Buytrago copped the same color of medal for the PHI.
Larong Volleyball sa Pilipinas, Inc. called for an expansion tryout for the national pool early this year.
The sports’ local governing body then named the members of the national women’s U-23 team, women’s senior team and the men’s team.
Women’s team head coach Shaq Delos Santos retained his spot for the second straight year while Kungfu Reyes was named head coach of the U-23 team. Former national team player and NU coach Dante Alinsunurin was tapped to call the shots for the men’s team.
As part of their preparation for the Manila SEA Games, the men’s team participated in the Sealect Tuna Thailand Open Volleyball Championship where the Filipinos bagged the bronze medal. The U-23 women’s team also joined the tournament in a disappointing outing.
The women’s national team played in the inaugural ASEAN Grand Prix where the Filipinas finished third in the four-nation tournament in both the Thailand and Philippine legs.
LVPI sent the men’s and women’s teams to training camps in Japan just weeks before the SEA Games.
The women’s team played an extra pocket tournament PSL Super Cup before the biennial meet where the Nationals finished second in the four-team field after losing to Japanese squad University of Tsukuba.
A major blow hit the women’s team just weeks before the SEA Games after Kalei Mau was deemed ineligible to play under the FIVB residency rule. She failed to transfer her affiliation from US Volleyball to LVPI and fell short of the two-year residency rule, leaving the Nationals, who was already missing the services of Jaja Santiago and Dindin Santiago-Manabat, to name Aiza Maizo-Pontillas as replacement.
The SEA Games women’s competition was reduced to only four teams with the PHI, Indonesia, Vietnam and powerhouse Thailand.
Despite fears of delays in the renovation of the venue, the PhilSports Arena in Pasig City hosted the SEA Games.
The Filipinas had its worst finish since its return in the Games in 2015, losing all of their four games including a stinging five set loss to Indonesia in the battle for bronze when the Nationals came just a point short of ending a 14-year podium finish drought.
While the women’s team was struggling, the Filipinos inspired the nation to believe in the men’s team after they won against Cambodia and Vietnam.
The Nationals lost in straight sets at the hands of powerhouse Indonesia that sent them on a collision course with defending champion Thailand in the semifinals.
Against the Thais, the Filipinos went down, 21-24, in the fourth set with Thailand needing just one point to advance to the Finals.
But Nationals made a miracle as Espejo, Bagunas and Kim Malabunga joined forces to steal the frame.
The fifth set turned out to be an epic.
With the game tied at 15, veteran setter Jessie Lopez made a heady play to setup Malabunga with a back-quick to put the Nationals at match point.
Lopez then drew up the game-winning play as he setup Bagunas for the finishing down the line hit that put the Philippines in the final since winning silver in the 1977 edition and assured the host of a podium finish after winning the bronze in 1991.
Against the Indonesians in the gold medal match, experience played a big role in Indonesia’s straight sets victory over the Filipinos.
But despite the loss, the Nationals realized its goal of bringing men’s volleyball in the spotlight.
Other memorable moments
The volleyball community mourned the passing of multi-titled coach Nes Pamilar from a lingering illness last January. He was 52.
UST sent FEU free merienda following the Lady Tamaraws win over De La Salle University that gave the Tigresses a chance to play the Lady Spikers in a playoff for the semis twice-to-beat advantage.
UST fans and alumni shouldered the expenses of family members of the Tigresses fly to Manila to watch the Finals including Rondina’s.
Rondina’s life story was featured in an episode of Maalaala Mo Kaya? Kim Chiu played the role of Rondina.
LVPI president Peter Cayco stepped down from his post and was replaced by vice president Joey Romasanta.
BaliPure libero Jewelle Bermillo made headlines after an infamous incident where she was hit at the back of the head by import Danijela Dzakovic of Montenegro after a crucial error during a match against Creamline. The two immediately patched things up after the incident.
Bryan Bagunas brought his talents to Japan after he was tapped as an import for Oita Miyoshi Weiss Adler while Marck Espejo signed a deal with Visakha Volleyball Club in Thailand.
The PHI volleyball community showed unity to help raise funds for the treatment of Jovelyn Gonzaga’s nephew Baby CV’s Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. and again during the benefit concert for coach Roger Gorayeb, who was diagnosed with multiple myeloma.
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