Cignal and National U-Sta. Elena slug it out for the second time in three days but in a far more vital setting even as Navy and VNS-One Alicia collide in a pair of explosive matches kicking off the semifinal round of the Spikers’ Turf Open Conference at the Paco Arena today (Thursday).
The HD Spikers swept the Nationals, 25-22, 25-22, 25-22, at the close of the elims Tuesday in a match that staked nothing but the seeding although the former’s victory over their erstwhile unbeaten rivals served as a big morale-boost to their finals drive in a round robin semis tipped to be tight and fierce.
“It’s non-bearing but it’s a big psychological win. May gigil or takot factor na since natalo namin sila,” said Cignal main man Marck Espejo, who spiked his top-scoring 17-point effort with 19 excellent receptions and five excellent digs to earn the game’s best player honors.
But the Japan league veteran insisted that the HD Spikers still have a lot of adjusting to do as they brace for a big bounce-back from the top UAAP squad.
“We’re not going to relax,” added Espejo, referring to their performance in the third set which they dominated in the early going only to slow down midway through, enabling the Nationals to mount a rally.
As in the first two sets, however, the HD Spikers proved steadier in the end to emerge No. 2 behind Navy at the close of elims play with Sta. Elena settling for No. 3. All three finished with 5-1 slates.
Cignal coach Dexter Clamor cited his wards’ cohesion and the intangibles that the rest of the team had chipped in throughout the match but remained wary of their rematch with the Nationals at 5:30 p.m.
“While the boys’ morale is high, we still have to study our lapses and the strength of the Nationals. Sure, they will make the necessary adjustments, so we need to be ready,” said Clamor.
The Navy Sealions are also all set to re-assert their mastery of the VNS Griffins in their 2:30 p.m. encounter with the former enjoying the momentum of a four-game streak, including a four-set victory over the latter last Saturday.
Jao Umandal, Greg Dolor, Jemmy Entig, Peter Quiel, and playmaker EJ Casana are raring to get going again but could face a tougher challenge this time from the likes of Ben San Andres, Kim Malabunga, Kevin Montemayor, Uriel Mendoza, and setter Ish Polvorosa and Joshua Cruz.
But the Cignal-Sta. Elena showdown promises to be another thriller of an encounter with Espejo to bank on JP Bugaoan, Ysay Marasigan, Louie Ramirez, Rex Intal, Edward Camposano and setter Owen Suarez and the Nationals itching to even things up behind Nico Almendras, Michaelo Buddin, Ken Malinis, Gerard Diao and Congolese Obed Mukaba and playmaker Josh Retamar.
Matches are aired on One Sports and One Sports+ and the league’s official website http://spikersturf.ph/live.