Shakey’s V-League Open Conference Individual Awards (Fearless) Forecasts

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I should be able to sneak a peek into the process determining the awardees, right? After all, I've been with the Shakey’s V-League as a broadcaster for seven years now and should be privy to this, correct?

Wrong. The process for determining the recipients of the individual accolades is a closely guarded thing—much like KFC’s secret recipes or Coca Cola’s formula (that actually got me hungry just now). All I can do is collate all the P2s and P3s and come up with my own guesses. However, the journey on how to arrive at the individual awardees in the league is not as straight forward as it seems.

In the UAAP, the numbers have a direct hand in feting a player and I believe this is true for most leagues as the player’s statistical points (individual performances, team wins/losses, +/-, etc.) are used in giving the player the award she deserves. In other leagues such as the PBA, there are votes involved. The votes come from the media, the coaches and the players themselves. In the Shakey’s V-League, it’s a mix of all of the above.

The individual awardees are known by the stats and the overall impact to the fans, and although we—the broadcasters—are asked for our opinions on certain players, the decision belongs solely to the organizers; Sports Vision Management Group, Inc. (SVMGI) with the power of attorney of league title sponsore Shakey's Pizza. VIS (Volleyball Information System) chief Sherwin Malonzo has all the numbers and the stats are viewed before SVMGI deliberates and comes out with its final decision that no one but them know until it is time to hand out the hardware.

So, just like all you readers, all I can do is guess.

I did receive a rare leak from inside, though. And, of course, the anonymity thingy blah-blah has to apply here.

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I learned that the league will bestow awards on two players that did not make the Final Four. No names were released, but the story is there are two.

This, for me, is unprecedented. Last year was one of the rare times the league awarded an individual whose team did not advance to the semis when Meralco’s Maureen Penetrante-Ouano won her third Best Blocker trophy. This year (ironically in the same conference), there are two. I’m pretty sure you know who one of them is and due to the record-breaking nature of this person’s performance, it only is fitting that she be feted. So let’s get her out of the way and award her with that Best Scorer trophy already, right?

BEST SCORER PREDICTION: Alyssa Valdez (Ateneo de Manila University)

Valdez broke all existing scoring records of the league by coming away with 342 points. Former league MVP Jaroensri Bualee (of Thailand) held the old record of 314—for an entire season (ending, of course in game two of the semis). Valdez broke this mark halfway through the quarterfinals and it will be record that even she will have a hard time eclipsing. Surprisingly, Valdez has never won this award before. Interesting.

For the Best Spiker award, there are several who look to be in contention for this. As you all know, the Best Spiker award is determined by the percentage of success in attacking. So someone like Valdez may have a hard time winning this because of the sheer volume of attacks she has to do in the game. It’s not a common occurrence that an open spiker gets the Best Spiker nod, but it’s been done before in the league; most recently by the National University’s (NU) Myla Pablo during last year first conference.

The Best Spiker award normally goes to quickers as they usually have the higher attack percentage as they get probably half of the balls wingers are given on any given match.

The prime candidates here are stats leader Jaja Santiago (she still holds the top spot despite NU’s quarterfinal exit), Air Force’s Maika Ortiz and Cagayan Valley’s Aiza Maizo.

Now going back to what I said earlier, there are two players from the non-Final Four squads that are alleged to have been included in the individual awards. It makes sense to me that Jaja may be that other one as her accuracy sans ate Din-Din has improved despite the fact that she has been given more attempts to score. It always helps that Jaja is 6’6” anyway.

Ortiz and Maizo have delivered in the clutch and that’s why they’re always being mentioned in this discussion.

However, I think Jaja’s got this one.

BEST SPIKER PREDICTION: Jaja Santiago (NU)

Another tossup would be the race for Best Blocker only because it has so many variables such as Kill Blocks, Rebounds and Total Attempts. And since I’ve already given Jaja the Best Spiker award, I will have to take out the two other suspects I have who in my mind could also be considered contenders for this particular accolade, so goodbye to Ateneo’s Amy Ahomiro and UP’s Kathy Bersola.

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That now leaves Ortiz, PLDT Home Telpad’s Sasa Devanadera and Cagayan Valley’s Pau Soriano. There was another frontrunner in this race, but since she missed the last few games where the stats really would have catapulted her so Charo Soriano is not in contention anymore.

So who takes it?

I mentioned above that stats—although a major determining factor in all individual awards—must complement the overall impact of a player, and that holds true most of all in blocking.

Ortiz may be the lowest among the three with regards to numbers, but the magnitude of when her blocks took place is what is giving her consideration for this recognition. The former University of Santo Tomas (UST) stalwart was responsible for key defensive stops in the Air Spikers’ crucial wins against Army in the quarterfinals and Ateneo in the knockout playoff. She became the game-changer in those two victories and the league surely notes this.

Devanadera has been an ongoing success story and percentage-wise has been lording it over. It’s hard to believe that at this time last year she was still working in a casino, with no inkling that she’d be back in competitive volleyball. Taking this trophy home would validate a lot of things for the former San Sebastian lass.

Pau has won this award twice in the past, but never at the Open level. She is the smallest among the candidates at a shade below 5’8” but yet her blocks (she set the season record with six kill blocks against Air Force in the elims) have indirectly allowed her team to enter the finals anew. That is a story worthy of an award.

But whose story am I most enamored with?

BEST BLOCKER PREDICTION: Sasa Devanadera (PLDT Home Telpad)

The Best Setter plum looks to be a runaway—in terms of the stats, with Air Force’s Rhea Dimaculangan putting distance between the rest of the field. However, PLDT Home Telpad’s Rubie de Leon has made great strides to bridge that gap, while the statistical points Army’s Tina Salak amassed with the Lady Troopers entering the finals for the first time since 2011 is also starting to loom large.

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It looked to be DMac’s title to lose, but I think she’s still got it—by the proverbial skin of her teeth against her ates.

BEST SETTER PREDICTION: Rhea Dimaculangan (Philippine Air Force)

Just to formalize, I declare owner of the “Remote Control Serve” as the runaway winner of the Best Server trophy.

BEST SERVER (PREDICTION): Rachel Anne Daquis (Philippine Army)

For the libero awards, I see two Adamson alumni splitting the two accolades. Honorable mention should go to Lady Eagles’ superstar floor patroller Den-Den Lazaro—especially in the quarterfinal round where she played better even than she did in the UAAP postseason en route to that incredible five game winning streak, and Tin Agno who effectively plugged the gaping defensive holes in her first season with her new squad.

But in the end—and we’re a few hours away from that—Lizlee Ann Gata-Pantone and Sheila “Bangnita” Pineda have really sizzled this season. That’s not new for Tatan who is a five-time league Best Digger and a one-time league Best Receiver as well as a mainstay in the national team. Gata-Pantone has traditionally been known for her impeccable digging, but this season mirrored her success in 2009 when she finally got recognized by the league for her flawless reception skills. I have a strong feeling her five year wait is over.

BEST RECEIVER PREDICITION: Lizlee Ann Gata-Patone (PLDT Home Telpad)

On the other side of the fence, Gata-Pantone was on her way out of Adamson when Pineda entered the scene; initially as a serve specialist, then to off the bench spiker, to star spiker, to team scoring leader and now to…libero.

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It’s been common knowledge that Bang has always had incredible instincts on floor defense. But when Cagayan Valley Head Coach Nes Pamilar converted the former Lady Falcons’ prime scoring option into his starting libero, many—including myself—felt that the offensive skill set the 21-year-old innately possessed would be wasted. Pineda converted all of us to praise her in her new position after just a few games and the end result has the Rising Suns entering the finals for the third consecutive season.

Pineda’s digs have been phenomenal and if you’ve crawled up from under a rock at the end of the UAAP season—or less harshly put, if you had never seen her as an opener before—you’d be think she was a libero all throughout her career. Bang is one of the gambits that paid off for Pamilar—along with the acquisition of Gyzelle Sy and Janine Marciano and the rebirth of Rosemarie Vargas—that has Cagayan Valley looking to be the first back-to-back Open queens.

BEST DIGGER PREDICTION: Sheila Pineda (Cagayan Valley)

And now we come to the most debated award: the Most Valuable Player (MVP).

Many fans have been presenting arguments that Valdez should still be considered for this one MVP trophy that has eluded her in her five years in the league.

I’ve done some explaining already on Twitter, so let’s surmise it here.

Valdez did break the scoring record and set one that may never be broken. She is in the top ten of four major offensive categories. The league considers her as their prime ambassadress hence the lavish bash last June 29th to mark the Phenom’s 21st birthday.

However, since Ateneo did not make it past the quarterfinal round, Valdez failed to figure in key stat points such as Team Wins/Losses, Team Set Won/Lost, +/-, etc. And while all the awards are not based solely on stats, the league has to give precedence to those key players who DID advance to the Final Four and how their teams became victorious due to their efforts—hence Value.

On that merit alone, Valdez is eliminated from the MVP race primarily because her team did not attain enough wins. It is not necessarily her fault that the Lady Eagles fell short, but it is an indicator of success that, as a member of the team, she did not meet.

That being said, we now focus on the MVP candidates from the four teams that did advance to the semifinals: Cagayan Valley’s Aiza Maizo, Army’s Rachel Anne Daquis, PAF’s Maika Ortiz and PLDT Home Telpad’s Suzanne Roces,

Using the statistical point once again as an indicator, the Air Spikers and the Turbo Boosters lost in both of their semis tiffs awarding superior points to the two players whose teams did the sweeping: Maizo and Daquis. In my mind—and I will be very surprised if there is a third candidate (perhaps reigning MVP Joevlyn Gonzaga)—the MVP contest is down to these two very experienced veterans.

Maizo has already won league MVP in her the twilight of her college career with the Tigresses in 2009 along with successive Finals MVP trophies in 2009 and 2010. Daquis has won the Finals MVP twice; in 2011 (as a rookie for the Lady Troopers) and just last conference as she helped her alma mater FEU finally win their first league title. Like Valdez, Daquis has never won conference MVP.

Stats-wise, Daquis is in the top ten in ALL categories (except setting, of course). On paper, she has the edge. She has also brought the same degree of hunger she displayed in FEU’s first conference conquest and she is playing in an undoubtedly stronger unit. Many also consider the Lady Troopers as crown-favorite primarily due to her splendid play all season long.

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Impact-wise, Maizo has been the most, and oftentimes, the only consistent player for the Rising Suns. She scores the most important points in the match and has played her best games when it mattered most: against Army in the elimination round (the Lady Troopers first loss all year across all competitions with Salak playing), against Air Force to stave off elimination at the end of the quarterfinals and against PLDT Home Telpad to advance to the Finals. Maizo seemed to have stumbled upon the Fountain of Youth in her backyard, because I haven’t seen her play like this since her UST days.

Cutting a long story short (too late) and that being said, my vote for MVP goes to:

MVP PREDICTION: Aiza Maizo (Cagayan Valley)

This is one of the hardest guesses I’ve ever had to make in my broadcasting career in the Shakey’s V-League. The only one that comes close to this was in 2010 when Roces and then Adamson guest player (and now Army starter) Nerissa Bautista went head-to-head in practically everything in the second conference. Roces went on to win the conference MVP award, but Bautista ended up giving the Lady Falcons the title.

This feels like that, so it could really go either way. But I’m quite sure it’s now between these two highly competitive young women.

Since this article took forever to write, it’ll only be a few hours before we actually learn how on point my predictions are. But if we base my success rate on how I played swami in the recently concluded Philippine Super Liga (PSL) All Filipino Conference, then I could be way off again on a few.

Suffice it to say, this has been one of the most memorable Open conferences to date and I’m looking forward to seeing which team will walk away with the whole enchilada.

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See you all later at SJA. It’ll be another #Miefer session with Tita Mozzy Ravena. Brace yourselves.

Follow Noel Zarate on Twitter (@NoelZarate) and email sportztackle@yahoo.com