Troopers brace for reg’l volley war

Members of the victorious Army squad, led by coach Rico de Guzman, acknowledge the cheers with a salute after completing their sweep of San Sebastian for the Shakey’s V-League Open Conference at The Arena.

Hardly savoring the sweet taste of victory in the Shakey’s V-League Open Conference, the Army Lady Troopers get back to work in the next few days to plot their next line of attack in a bigger battlefield.

Shakey’s Pizza is putting up an invitational volley tournament next month where the top club teams from Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam, along with Army, will slug it out for the championship in what promises to be a blockbuster event among the regional rivals.

It is also expected to gauge the country’s progress in women’s volley, at least in the regional level, which it used to dominate in the 90s.

“The event was supposed to be held last year but we were forced to shelve it due to the Hong Kong bus hostage crisis,” said Moying Martelino, chair of the organizing Sports Vision.

He expressed confidence of the Army’s chances in the event slated Oct. 25-30 at The Arena in San Juan although it will also depend on the quality of the teams to be fielded in by the other four countries.

“We have a strong, good team in Army. But we will not know their true worth unless they play against these teams,” said Martelino.

Army coach Rico de Guzman is also looking forward to the Invitationals and has in fact expressed his desire to tap Suzanne Roces and Aiza Maizo to bolster the team’s title drive in the six-day tournament.

“We’re planning to get four guest players, including Roces and Maizo,” said de Guzman who already boasts of a star-studded crew made up of national team players that romped off with Shakey’s V-League inaugural Open diadem.

Led by sisters Michelle and Marietta Carolino, Mary Jean Balse, Joanne Buñag, Cristina Salak, Theresa Iratay, Jen Reyes and Rachel Ann Daquis, the Troopers put up a dominating performance in the just-concluded conference, winning a total of 13 games, including a pair of sweeps over Navy and San Sebastian in the Final Four and finals, respectively.

Although they needed a five-setter to finally defuse the Lady Stags in Game Two of their best of three title playoff, , 27-25, 20-25, 22-25, 25-23, 15-10, the Troopers proved just too much for the field, dropping just five sets in the entire campaign en route to the championship.

They finished the elims tied with the Stags at 5-1 and wound up tied again with the Recoletos-based squad after the quarters. Though the Stags matched the Troopers semis sweep with a 2-0 win over Ateneo, the 2008 second conference champions fell short of their bid for a second crown despite the presence of two top imports in Lauren Ford and Jang Baulee.

“We didn’t expect to win. It’s tough especially against the two imports of SSC,” said de Guzman. “We just did our best and it’s a great feeling being able to give honor to the organization.’

In the finals, De Guzman stressed the need for his players to keep an eye on Baulee and Ford, who went on to bag the MVP and scoring honors but was neutralized by the Troopers’ solid net defense in the finals.

“Actually, I didn’t have a hard time motivating my players, most of whom are members of the national pool. I just told them to learn from their mistakes and try to improve on their next game,” said de Guzman.

The next assignment will be a lot tougher, the field a lot stronger. But with de Guzman in command and his Lady Troopers ready to mow down the opposition, the newly crowned champions may yet carry out the mission.(pr)

Members of the victorious Army squad, led by coach Rico de Guzman, acknowledge the cheers with a salute after completing their sweep of San Sebastian for the Shakey’s V-League Open Conference at The Arena. Also in photo is Shakey’s Pizza EVP and COO Vic Gregorio (far right).

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