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Against AU, FEU’s returning players key their charge

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The FEU Lady Tamaraws underwent a challenging, multi-year team building phase and en route to making the UAAP Final Four last season. Losing key players like libero Tin Agno and setter Yna Papa, they were pegged to likely take a step back this season.

However, given the level of play FEU’s returning players showed in their triumph over defending NCAA champs AU Lady Chiefs, the Lady Tams are very much in condition to return to the UAAP Final Four and even defend their Shakey’s V-League title.

Third-year open hitter, Bernadeth Pons sizzled for 21 points off 18 attacks and three block kills. What was more impressive was Pons renewed her attacking acumen. In years past, Pons often needed certain kind of sets to effectively deliver attacks. So far, in FEU’s first two games, Pons has shown incremental improvement; using her explosive leaping ability to find holes in the opposing defense while in mid-air. She has even sharpened her signature floating, down-the-line hit to be faster and less easy to read.

“Isa na kasi ako sa mga veterans sa team. Hindi na ako rookie, so kailangan isa na ako sa mga dapat maging example para sa team. Kailangan hindi na lang ako puro palo, kailangan may diskarte rin na makikita ng mga teammate ko tapos masusundan nila” Pons told the Tiebreaker Times after their Arellano win. “Masaya ako na maganda ‘yung nilaro ng team against sa malakas na kalaban tapos na-apply namin ‘yung mga tinuro ng mga coaches.“

Aside from Pons, FEU’s imposing middle blockers propelled their late season run in UAAP 77. The trio of giants in Remy Palma, Geneveve Casugod, and Jerrili Malabanan cannot be matched by most teams, giving FEU control of the net in most games. Palma notched 10 markers against AU while Casugod doled out five points in just two sets of action. Coming off a severe foot injury, Casugod was just glad that she’s back on the team, being able to contribute no matter how many minutes she’s given.

“Natapilok po kasi ako ng malala sa practice weeks before SVL. Grabe talaga ‘yung pag-maga ng paa ko so hindi talaga ako nakapagtraining ng dalawang linggo. Masakit pa rin siya pero tinatry ko na lang siya ilaro ngayon para lang mawala ‘yung takot ko na mangyari ulet yun kasi malala talaga,” the third year middle blocker said.

Casugod also shared that there isn’t any animosity between her and her two fellow middle blcokers despite them constantly shuffling and not getting consistent playing time. In fact, she’s more excited about the continued improvement of Malabanan and the imposing option of having her play as an open hitter to really beef up the FEU’s rotations height. “Sobrang close po kai ni Jerrili (Malabanan). Kapag po may tanong siya about volleyball at kung paano gawin ‘yng ibang bagay sa court, sinasagot ko naman po… Maganda po ‘yung lineup namin kapag nasa open si Jerrili. Lumalakas ‘yung blocking namin saka paunti-unti na po gumagaling si Jerrili sa back floor defense,”  Casugod remarked.

Filling in the gap left by Agno is returning defensive specialist turned libero, Kyla Atienza who showed that despite she is still far from the lofty peak set by the Puto Queen, she can do most of the libero’s work just as consistently well.

Finding a replacement for Yna Papa might be a bit more challenging for coach Shaq and his staff. However, Delos Santos says that he sees a lot of potential in Kyle Negrito; if only she could find the confidence to perform during games. “Maganda ‘yung pinapakita ni Kyle kapag practice. Mas marami siyang nagagawa. Pero pag dating ng game, may pressure kasi kaya hindi niya naipapakita ‘yung buong potential niya. ‘Yun na lang siguro ‘yung kailangan, ‘yung mabigyan siya ng confidence,” the FEU mentor quipped in the post-game press conference.

FEU seemed to have found a way to remedy their lack of experience even before the season, enlisting the services of National Team veteran, Jovelyn Gonzaga to hopefully mentor their younger spikers. So far, his players have been receptive to the Bionic Gwapa’s mentoring.

“Marami nang naituro sa akin si Ate Jov,” answered Pons when asked about the Army spiker. “As a spiker naituro niya sa akin na gawan ng paraan kahit anong set pa ‘yung ibigay sa akin, na hindi lang mamigay ng free ball. Tapos iba rin pag si Ate Jov ‘yung nag-eencourage sayo pag nagkakamali ka.”

Next week, FEU faces the winless PUP Lady Radicals then they face two fellow UAAP teams, UP and NU, to close out their elimination round. The Lady Tams acknowledge that their last two weeks of competition will be helpful in measuring how far they’ve come as a group.

“Siyempre excited kami makalaban ‘yung kapwa namin UAAP team kasi iba talaga ‘yung competetion sa UAAP. Maganda ‘yun para ma-experience din ng mga rookies ‘yung labanan sa UAAP,” Pons closed.

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Miguel Luis Flores fell face first into sports writing in high sch9l and has never gotten up. He reluctantly stumbled into the volleyball beat when he started with Tiebreaker Times three years ago. Now, he has waded through everything volleyball – from its icky politics to the post-modern art that is Jia Morado’s setting.

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Basketball

OIC Willie Marcial insists ‘walang pagbabago’ in return of physical play in PBA

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The return of physicality in PBA games early this 43rd season has drawn raves from the coaches and the fans. At last, the matches are decided by the players themselves and not by the way the referees blow their whistles.

All the fans, the players, and ultimately the coaches have been longing for this, as physical play had been heavily controlled during the administration of former commissioner Chito Narvasa from 2015 to 2017.

“The games are being called a little differently now. They’re allowing a little bit more contact or a lot more contact,” said Meralco Bolts head coach Norman Black.

“I love it. I’m an old school guy so you can imagine. No harm, no foul.”

“The physicality’s good. It’s good for the game. It’s real men going at it,” opined Alaska Aces head coach Alex Compton on the other hand, seconding Black’s sentiments.

“I like the direction the league is going in with officiating.”

It is just one of the many positive changes that are currently taking place in the league under the management of officer-in-charge Willie Marcial. But he insisted that tweaks haven’t really been made in terms of calling games.

“Wala, pinapalaro lang namin. Walang pagbabago yun,” said the amiable league official on Monday evening, when he paid Gilas Pilipinas a surprise visit at the Meralco Gym in Pasig City.

“Pinapalaro lang namin yung mga players.”

All that he’s doing, according to Marcial, is simply reminding the referees to be firm with their calls.

“Sinabihan ko lang yung mga referees na, ‘Manindigan kayo kung ano talaga.'”

With more consistent calls comes the shorter duration of games compared to the past two seasons, as time-consuming reviews by referees and officials has not occurred in matches too often this season.

“Mas mabilis na (mga laro ngayon),” said Marcial, also the league’s former external affairs and communications head.

“One hour (and) 56 (minutes), one hour 52… ‘Di umaabot ng dalawang oras eh.”

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Boxing

Manny Pacquiao eyes bout against Vasyl Lomachenko

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Even if he has hinted at retirement numerous times, Senator Manny Pacquiao (59-7-2, 38KO) continues to stress that the time is not yet now.

In an interview with ANC’s Headstart on Wednesday morning, the 39-year-old sure hall of famer reiterated his stance that he and his camp are still looking for the best fights possible.

“I am not retired yet. Alam mo na-mimiss ko yun boxing e,” Pacquiao told Karen Davilla.

“I’m still okay.”

Pacquiao, who lost his last bout against Jeff Horn last July 2, is not afraid that another loss might affect his legacy.

Pressed about who he wants to fight next, boxing’s only eight-division world champion disclosed that he is currently under negotiations with the camp of WBO Super Featherweight Champion Vasyl Lomachenko (10-1, 8KO).

“Wala akong problema kung Amir Khan. May discussion din ngayon kay Lomachenko, he is the number one pound-for-pound fighter,” Pacquiao shared.

“Hindi pa na-finalize pero this year.”

Pacquiao is eyeing an April date for the bout, as it will be the time the senate goes on a break.

“This year, by April. Pangako ko sa mga tao na hindi maapektuhan ang trabaho ko. April, magandang idea dahil off kami from March 23 to May 13. April wala kaming trabaho,” a confident Pacquiao added.

“Three months is more than enough time to prepare.”

However, there is still one hindrance to the bout, according to Pacquiao. The two camps have yet to agree on which weight class the bout will be held.

According to reports, Lomachenko wants the bout to be at lightweight — a division Pacquiao has not been in for the last 10 years.

“Hindi pa sure. Nag-uusap pa about sa timbang.”

One thing is for sure — Pacquiao is hungrier than ever.

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Football

Composed Ceres-Negros expels Shan United in shootout victory

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Photo from the-AFC.com

2017 AFC ASEAN Zone Champions Ceres-Negros banked on their poise and composure from the spot as they knocked out Myanmar’s Shan United via a 4-3 penalty shootout (1-1 after extra time) triumph, Tuesday evening at the Thuwunna Stadium in Yangon, Myanmar.

The Negrenses punched their ticket to Brisbane, Australia after emerging the better spotkick takers. Four Busmen were on target, while two of their Shan Warriors counterparts fluffed their lines.

The two domestic champions were inseparable after 120 minutes, with the hosts holding their own against the Philippine champions. Ceres-Negros looked the more dominant of the two teams. However, they couldn’t make the advantage count where it mattered, as they failed to breach the sturdy Shan United defense inside the first two regulation halves.

The visitors were visibly more comfortable in the first half, but with the scores staying level at the break, the less-fancied Myanmar champions eventually found their footing in the encounter. While there were several half-chances from either side to open the scoring, both defenses remained defiant en route to unwanted extra time.

“It was a tough game. We weren’t ready to play 120 minutes because we only had four training sessions before the game but everytime we wear this jersey, we represent Ceres, we represent Bacolod, we represent the Philippines, so we have to give our best,” Ceres’ defender Carli de Murga elaborated to the Inquirer after the match. The Asian Football season has yet to start, and with both teams not too busy with pre-season preparations, rust and fatigue in a demanding affair were evident.

Come extra time, Ceres-Negros took the initiative when Stephan Schröck’s deflected effort went past the helpless Thiha Si Thu just three minutes into the first half.

Nonetheless, the hosts refused to go down without a fight, and their resilience was rewarded later in the opening half. Substitute Patrick Asare found the back of the net to restore parity in Yangon.

Another 15 minutes of goalless action took place in the second half as both teams looked more cautious, perhaps with the collective aim of avoiding a costly error or two. Among all the chances, Schröck’s in the 114th minute may have proved to be the closest to changing the scores, as his attempt shaved the post.

Shan United took to the spot first, where Asare made his penalty attempt count. Nay Lin Tun also made his, but not before teammate Chizoba smashed his attempt over Toni Doblas’ goal.

While the hosts squandered a shot, the visitors remained calm in front of a hostile Myanmar crowd. De Murga, Schröck and Mike Ott nailed their turns, with Marañon also not missing a vital kick from 12 yards.

It set up William Biassi Nyakwe, the man credited with the own goal when he deflected Schröck’s opener, with the chance to prolong his team’s campaign in the AFC Champions League. Unfortunately for him, he couldn’t atone for his earlier mistake, as his attempt soared high and wide — much to the delight of the visiting team from Bacolod, the Philippines.

The reward for Ceres-Negros is a trip to Queensland, Australia, where they will seek to do one better than compatriots Global-Cebu. The 2016 Philippine champions also played against the Brisbane Roar, who dealt them a staggering 6-0 hammering this time last year. The match will be held at the Suncorp Stadium on January 23.

As for Shan United, a spot in the AFC Cup Group Stage awaits them and they may not have seen the last of Ceres-Negros just yet. If the Negrenses lose to either Brisbane Roar or Tianjin Quanjian, they will be reacquainted with the Burmese champions in Group F.

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Basketball

Abu Tratter plans to work his way to 2023 by continuing to do ‘the dirty work’

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Abu Tratter may have missed the jersey-giving ceremony that the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas held for the 23 for 2023 cadets last Monday but he made sure to help out when the current batch needed him the most.

After helping the Marinerong Pilipino Skippers win the Sinulog Cup in Cebu a week ago, the 6-foot-7 Filipino-American did not hesitate to heed Gilas’ call, as they were undermanned for their second session in preparation for the 2019 FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers.

“I think it’s just an honor to put on this jersey, to be able to represent our country, to possibly represent our country in the future. It’s an honor,” shared the Laguna-native.

The 25-year old, who just celebrated his birthday last January 9, admitted that he was in awe of the talent inside the Meralco Gym. Like a fan, he wanted to take a few photo ops with the senior team’s Gabe Norwood and June Mar Fajardo.

“Actually, at first I was just shocked to see June Mar and Gabe, just to be able to be in the midst of them,” gushed the former DLSU Green Archer, who will suit-up for Marinerong Pilipino in the D-League. “I even asked them for a picture, and hopefully they’ll still give me one.

“It’s just humbling, definitely.”

However, the work has only began for Tratter. With five years to go until the 2023 FIBA World Cup, the two-time UAAP champion plans to continue to do what he does best — be the same scrapper that he is and hopefully catch the eye of Gilas’ brass.

“I think just doing the dirty work, of course. Giving whatever the team needs, rebound or any steals, any thing a dirty player would need to pick up on,” he said.

“That’s how it is, garbage into gold. Get anything, sweep up anything and try to put it back.”

Moreover, he will continue answering the call when Gilas needs him, as he himself is learning a lot from being surrounded by the country’s topflight cagers.

“Whenever I can. I want to be able to absorb all the information coming from here and hopefully apply it in the D-League and hopefully apply it on future practices, future games.”

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