PLDT has the momentum but Army boasts of the experience so key in a crucial Premier Volleyball League stretch, guaranteeing a slam-bang clash of teams out to assert themselves in a talent-laden pack of bidders in the semifinal round of the Invitational Conference.
The lone match kicking off what promises to a wild semis phase fires off at 4 p.m. at the Filoil EcoOil Centre in San Juan today (Tuesday) with the High Speed Hitters setting out exuding confidence after hurdling the Cignal HD Spikers in four to close out their impressive elims campaign.
In contrast, the Lady Troopers dropped their final elims assignment to the powerhouse Creamline Cool Smashers and needed some “outside” help to get through the next round. Army got a free ride to the semis after also-ran Petro Gazz spoiled Choco Mucho’s own bid with a shock sweep of the crowd favorites.
But the Lady Troopers are more than ready to prove their worth behind a crew so tested in this kind of battles, led by skipper and top-hitter Jovelyn Gonzaga, ace playmaker Ivy Perez, Honey Royse Tubino, Jeanette Villareal, Mary Anne Esguerra, Joanne Bunag, Jem Gonzales, Angela Nunag, MJ Balse-Pabayo and Nene Bautista.
The last two have been in the volley wars since the organizing Sports Vision revived the once dormant league in 2004, steering Army to a couple of championships—in the 2011 and 2014 Open Conference.
But the young guns of PLDT are all geared up to deliver another title to the top telecommunications company, which has also annexed two championships in the Open and Reinforced conferences in 2015 on a team built around a mix of aces in Alyssa Valdez, Grethcel Soltones, Sue Roces, Sasa Devanadera and Rubie de Leon, among others.
But the current PLDT batch are raring to take the spotlight with coach George Pascua expressing so much confidence in his wards, spearheaded by Mika Reyes, Fiola Ceballos, Jules Samonte, Rhea Dimaculangan, Chin Basas and Dell Palomata along with Joy Soyud, Kath Arado, Wendy Semana and Jessey de Leon.
“The team’s mindset has been to pounce on every opportunity, to beat all our opponents,” said Pascua. “And it has been a collective effort, everybody is contributing. Unlike in the Open Conference, they are now playing with great chemistry, with character.”
The High Speed Hitters also pack with power, outhitting the Lady Troopers, 52-41, in their four-set win in the elims. They also dominated the net defensively with eight blocks against their rivals’ four and cashed in on Army’s sloppy reception with six aces, five more than the Lady Troopers.
But stats don’t matter in post-elims play and in a virtual “knockout” stretch where two foreign guest squads will spice up the finals hunt, desire and poise will go hand-in-hand with talent and skills.
Kobe Shinwa and KingWhale will get to show their stuff on Aug. 8 as they clash in the 2:30 p.m. opener of an explosive twinbill capped by the Creamline-Cignal rematch at the SM MOA Arena.
Meanwhile, the Cool Smashers mix it up with the Lady Troopers at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday while the Cignal HD kick off their finals drive against the High Speed Hitters at 5:30 p.m.
Both games will be played at the Ynares Center in Antipolo, which will also host the Saturday matches pitting Cignal vs Army at 2:30 p.m. and Creamline vs PLDT at 5:30 p.m.