Road-weary Army crushes UP, Air Force fends off PNP in Shakey’s V-League Open

Noel Zarate

GAMES ON THURSDAY (July 3rd) at the San Juan Arena:

2:00PM – Cagayan Valley vs. Philippine National Police

4:00PM – PLDT Home Telpad vs. University of the Philippines

THE ARENA, San Juan City—Still recovering from the rigors of enduring a thirteen hour bus ride from Cagayan Province, the Philippine Army still found the reserve energy to railroad the hapless University of the Philippines (UP) Lady Maroons 25-18, 25-13, 25-17 while the Philippine Air Force (PAF) had to dig deep to keep the spirited Philippine National Police (PNP) winless 25-22, 25-23, 25-8 in the second day of preliminary round action in the Shakey’s V-League Open Conference here.

First conference Finals MVP Rachel Anne Daquis (one of the candidates for Yahoo Philippines’ “Hotlete” of the year) led a balanced attack for the Lady Troopers with fourteen points, while former league MVPs Mary Jean Balse and Jovelyn Gonzaga added thirteen and ten points, respectively in the rousing triumph to kick start their redemption campaign of the crown they won in the inaugural edition of this tournament in 2011. So dominant was the performance of Army that the Lady Maroons were playing catch up from the onset and were hardly in contention in the match as a variety of attacks orchestrated by returning setter Tina Salak diffused any momentum the Dilimanians had in several stretches of the contest.

It was just the night before when the Lady Troopers returned back to Manila after participating in the Cagayan Friendship Games (CFG) where they figured in the title clash against the host squad Cagayan Valley. After sweeping the classification stage, the import-laden Rising Suns beat them twice on the same day to once again snare the prestigious championship. Road-weary but nevertheless battle-ready the Army lasses lashed out at UP and quickly turned the tiff into a light workout.

The victory came at a great cost, though, as starting center-spiker Jacqueline Alarca suffered a high ankle sprain after steeping on Salak late in the second set while attempting a block. The former UAAP MVP quickly crumbled to the floor in agony, leading many to suspect the worst as she has had a history of knee injuries which slowed down her career somewhat before resurfacing with the Lady Troopers in 2011.

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There was mini relief when Alarca instantly clutched her ankle instead of her knee but was still writhing in pain even as Army Assistant Coach Emilio “Kung Fu” Reyes singlehandedly carried her to the sidelines. When the diagnosis was known, it put a mild dash on the title hopes of the Lady Troopers as Alarca’s recovery could last anywhere from three weeks to two months. Reserve middle-hitter Genie Sabas came in to take over; forcing Army Head Coach Sgt. Rico de Guzman to utilize his last remaining big. Should anything untoward befall Sabas or Balse, Salak may have to see some time at that position in their upcoming match-up against PAF on Sunday (July 6th).

I’ve been informed, however, that veteran campaigners Joanne Bunag and former league MVP Michelle Carolino could be in the roster by then. Bunag is also known to play center-spiker but has spent the last couple of tournaments lining up as a winger.

The Lady Maroons were led by incoming junior Kathy Bersola with eleven points being the only UP player to finish in double-figures. Graduating veteran Angeli Araneta chipped-in eight markers in her first start at middle-hitter while skipper Nicole Tiamzon added six. The Lady Maroons next take on the debuting defending queens Cagayan Valley (sans any foreign reinforcements) on Thursday (July 3rd) to cap off a three-game opening schedule.

In the second game, PAF (henceforth known as the Air Spikers) needed to exert a little more effort than they expected to as the Lady Patrolers came out swinging from the get-go.

PNP—fresh off a straight sets shellacking against the Ateneo de Manila University Lady Eagles on opening day—fired the initial aggression salvo and the Air Spikers were on their heels from the vicious attacks from former San Beda College ace Frances Molina who line-up offensively on both wings and used a multitude of middle infiltrations against the struggling PAF net defenses.

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Molina came away with a game-high seventeen points but once again did not get ample support from the rest of the team as only rookie Tine Maderazo joined her in double-figures in scoring. Maderazo, a product of the Technological Institute of the Philippines (TIP)—garnered ten points but only three other Lady Patrollers could contribute offensively.

The impeccable floor defense and coverage led by former Adamson University “converted” libero Jill Gustilo became the equalizing factor for the Air Spikers as her exploits allowed the ever-reliable Rhea Dimaculangan to help jumpstart the offense. “DMac’s” former college teammate Judy Caballejo responded by knocking in twelve points followed yet another former University of Santo Tomas (UST) Tigress Maika Ortiz who scored most of her points during the very close second set. Ortiz contributed ten points and was adjudged Player of the Game. Utility-spiker Iari Yongco also finished with ten points in PAF’s rousing win.

The Air Spikers now take a competition day off to prepare themselves for an early showdown against its Armed Forces nemesis Army on Sunday.Many aficionados view the Sunday duel as a possible preview of the finale—but I believe it’s still too soon to put that out there. PNP for its part, welcomes new squad PLDT Home Telpad on Thursday with the Power Attackers brandishing perhaps the strongest line-up on paper among the eight participating teams with a couple of dual league MVPs in Din-Din Santiago and Suzanne Roces as well as “singular” MVP Louann Latigay and a Finals MVP in Rubie de Leon.

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Another former Finals MVP in Jem Ferrer has been stricken from the line-up due to conflicts with her job and has been replaced in the roster by former Adamson University playmaker Lourdes Patilano.

The biggest news of the day, though, is still the Alarca injury as it now puts a serious damper on the Lady Troopers’ title aspirations. If it is determined that Alarca may miss an extended amount of time, the team can replace her in the line-up. Unfortunately, Army does not carry a reserve center-spiker unless former UP utility-spiker Joyce Palad (who is on the Lady Troopers’ reserved list) can somehow morph into the role.

Army is not getting any younger and they’ll need to find a way to stay efficient albeit short-handed for the rest of the tournament. And this is a long tournament.

For UP, coach Jerry Yee is discovering a lot about his young wards and the experience points he’s gotten in just two games has been invaluable so far.

“Our goal is to just get better,” explained the man known as the “setter factory” (in reference to him being at the helm of Hope Christian High School producing one good setter after another). “We just want to get as much exposure as we can and this is a great way to get that done.”

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BOXSCORES:

Philippine Army def. University of the Philippines – 25-18, 25-13, 25-17

Army—Daquis 14, Balse 13, Gonzaga 10, Bautista 9, Sabas 6, Alarca 4, Salak 4, Cruz 1, Gonzales 1, Agno (L) 0.

UP—Bersola 11, Araneta 8, Tiamzon 6, Ilustre 2, Lai 1, Sandoval 1, Mo. Ortiz 1, Estrañero (L) 0, Gaiser (L) 0, Calugcug 0.

Philippine Air Force def. Philippine National Police – 25-22, 25-23, 25-8

PAF—Caballejo 12, Ma. Ortiz 10, Yongco 10, Cases 8, Dimaculangan 5, Tapic 5, Pantino 4, Manzano 1, Semana 1, Gustilo (L) 0, Balmaceda (L) 0, de Ramos 0, Andaya 0.

PNP—Molina 17, Maderazo 10, A. Perez 6, Martinez 1, Dave 1, Tadeo (L) 0, Gallano 0, Ticar 0, Saligao 0, Concepcion 0.


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