Army carried out the Shakey’s V-League mission in grand fashion, holding Cagayan Valley to another single-digit output in the second frame before battling back from two points down late in the third to carve out a 25-14, 25-7, 25-23 victory and complete a sweep of the Season 11 Open Conference crown before a full-house crowd at The Arena in San Juan yesterday.
Finals MVP Jovelyn Gonzaga scored two of Army’s last four hits, the first a cross-smash that shattered the 23-all count and the last a down-the-line kill, ending the brief 69-minute encounter and sparking a frenzied celebration by the Lady Troopers, who thus reclaimed the crown they won in Season 8 in 2011.
Held to a close fight after a breeze in the second frame, the Lady Troopers came out of their final huddle smoking, quickly wiping out a 23-21 Cagayan lead as Rachel Ann Daquis rammed in a kill then Gonzaga, loading up at mid-air, fired away a cross-smash to force a tie.
After foiling another Cagayan attack, Army uncoiled another hit before ace setter Tina Salak set up Gonzaga for the big finish.
“I’m lucky to be blessed with great players,” said Army coach Rico de Guzman, who also boasts of former MVPs Mary Jean Balse, a native of Davao del Norte Province, and Nerissa Bautista plus a slew of role players in Genie Sabas, Joanne Bunag and Sarah Jane Gonzales.
But Salak, 38, has hinted at hanging up her jersey to give way to the other young players, including Gonzaga.
“I told coach that this may be my last,” said Salak, an Army Corporal who has been in the service for 17 years. “I’m training her (Gonzaga) as a setter and I see her taking my spot when I leave.”
The victory capped Army’s dominating performance in the mid-season conference of the league sponsored by Shakey’s with the Lady Troopers co-topping the elims with Cagayan Valley and PLDT Home Telpad before clinching the top berth in the Final Four.
They swept the Air Force spikers in the semis then clipped the Rising Suns in the opener of the title playoff, highlighted by holding last year’s champions to a finals low out of five in the fourth, 25-19, 18-25, 25-18, 25-5.
As in practically all their matches, Gonzaga, Daquis, Balse and Bautista churned out double-digit outputs with the first three all pumping in 13 hits and Bautista backing them up with 10 points.
Blessed with so many options, Salak produced another solid game of 30 excellent sets while adding six points, the same output put in by Genie Sabas, while libero Christine Agno kept the ball in play with her and Gonzaga’s brilliant digs.
Like in the series opener, the Lady Troopers lorded it over the net on both ends, firing away 46 smashes against the Suns’ 29 and coming through with 11 blocks as against their rivals’ two.
So tough was Army’s defense that no Cagayan spiker scored in double-figure with top hitter Aiza Maizo held to eight points. Pau Soriano wound up with five hits while Rosemarie Vargas, Wenneth Eulalio and Joy Benito chipped in four markers apiece for the Rising Suns, who posted a record 16-game sweep of this conference last year.(pr)