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A season of blessings for Iris Tolenada

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One of the best weapons of the Philips Gold Lady Slammers is former San Fransciso State University (SFSU) setter and this year’s first overall pick, Iris Tolenada.

With Tolenada manning the helm of the Lady Slammers’ overhauled roster, Philips Gold improved their win-loss card to 5-5, as opposed to their 3-7 record in last year’s PSL Grand Prix, after their game against the Foton Tornadoes last Monday at the Cuneta Astrodome.

“We try to go in every match with the same mindset,” Tolenada said after the game. “So this match [against Foton] was very good for our team in terms of getting into the playoffs.”

Even though the team lost to Foton, they still have a shot in winning the coveted championship with a do-or-die playoff grudge match (opponent yet to be determined) this coming Saturday at the Quezon Convention Center in Lucena City, Quezon Province.

Early-season bumps

Despite bringing in a decorated collegiate resume here in Philippine soil, Tolenada and Philips Gold had a rough ride in the early parts of the season as the team only managed to win two of its first five games.

The team had opened its Philippine Super Liga All-Filipino Conference campaign with a couple of straight-set losses to the Petron Blaze Spikers and the Shopinas.com Lady Clickers. Philips Gold, then, barged at the win column after capturing their first victory of the season by defeating the Mane ‘n Tail Lady Stallions in four sets. Afterwards, however, the team had split its next games with a loss against the Cignal HD Spikers and a crucial five-set win over the Foton Tornadoes.

Going through the numbers, Tolenada averaged norms of 3.6 points and 28.6 excellent sets in her first five outings for Philips Gold.

In addition, and at the same time laying down her observations, Tolenada cited that she and her teammates made constant efforts to adjust to each other’s tendencies, since she played volleyball differently during her days with SFSU. Likewise, Tolenada said that playing in the country’s hot weather was another thing she had to deal with since she got used to the climate back in States.

“I had lots of time to adjust. My teammates and my coaches helped me through it all,” added Tolenada. “I think everyone knows that the heat is getting to me, but there is nothing I can’t handle and can’t overcome.”

“I try to bring my game here, and my team does a really good job training me. With the heat, I’m not quite sure, but you know it’s getting a little hotter so I’m going to try to adjust faster.”

Rounding into form

As the cliché goes, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

While the season continued to roll in a torrid pace, it became noticeably evident that Philips Gold effectively executed their game plan better, given the team’s improved familiarity and communication with each other.

Since losing to Petron to start the second round, Philips Gold finally uncorked their first winning streak of the season, winning back-to-back games against Shopinas.com and Cignal, to finally put their in-season adjustments to the test.

In those games, Head Coach, Francis Vicente, decided to shuffle between Tolenada and Hannah Espelita, the team’s backup setter, in order for them to dictate the pace of the game. In key situations, the gamble paid off with the team playing better particularly in their mode of attacking the defense.

“With all the hardwork we’ve been putting in, no one’s perfect, but we try our best every time,” Tolenada remarked on her team’s better outing in the second round. “I know my teammates’ tendencies and mine too, so we’re still trying our best but, you know, we can never control the other side of the court.”

Looking beyond

Aside from her daily PSL routines, Tolenada received another privilege as she was included in the all-PSL selection team that shall compete in the upcoming 2015 Asian Women’s Volleyball Championship, which will be held in Beijing and Tianjin, China from May 20 to 28.

“I’m very proud to represent this country and I hope they’re proud to have me represent them as well,” Tolenada added.

Their season may not have progressed the way they hoped it to be, but one thing that made Tolenada strive for more is the family culture embedded by her teammates and its management. It made Tolenada feel at home, and it eventually motivated her to go for the extra mile.

“It’s fun and the fans are definitely the best part around here and yeah, we don’t have that in the States. It’s really a fun atmosphere to play in. I love how open they were [teammates and management] to me and how welcoming they were. I know that my managers and everyone takes care of me and my teammates are like my sisters. We have fun on the court and off the court.”

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Basketball

Roger Pogoy churns best performance against former teammates

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Prior to Wednesday, all eyes were on the TNT Katropa-Blackwater Elite face-off, with many curious to see how last season’s Rookie of the Year Roger Pogoy would fare against his former FEU teammates Mac Belo and Raymar Jose.

And as the final buzzer sounded, the 25-year-old Pogoy had reigned triumphant over his close pals, getting away with a conference-best performance as a bonus.

The six-foot-two Cebuano sniper fired a game-high 24 points on 10-of-14 shooting, along with eight rebounds, three assists, and two steals, to lead the Texters to a skid-ending, 92-83 victory at the SMART Araneta Coliseum.

“Must-win talaga namin ‘to para makabawi kami, kasi 1-2 na yung standing namin (before the game) eh.

“Buti na lang maganda yung nilaro ko,” said Pogoy, who was just averaging 11.3 points in the past three games.

But Pogoy tipped his hat to the much taller Elite, who enjoyed plenty of time in the driver’s seat in the first half, until the Katropa found their groove in the third canto — highlighted by a 16-3 rally that put them ahead, 60-53.

“Malakas yung Blackwater eh, tapos ang lalaki nila kaya mahirap mag-drive, mahirap pumasa kasi naagaw nila,” said Pogoy. “Buti na lang naka-adjust kami nung second half. Hindi kami nagmadali, dinahan-dahan namin.”

Aside from his own outing, Pogoy is thankful that they were able to address their fourth quarter woes when facing the Elite — the issue that hounded them in their 76-88 loss to the San Miguel Beermen last Saturday in Iloilo.

TNT had actually been mere steps away from melting down — again — against Blackwater, no thanks to a 20-9 run that wiped out their 17-point lead to just six,

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With Nash Racela knowing his tendencies, Mac Belo limited to poor shooting

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Prior to Wednesday, Blackwater Elite’s young star Mac Belo was on a roll early in the 2018 Philippine Cup, averaging exactly 20 points on 42.6 percent shooting in their games against Meralco, Rain or Shine, and Ginebra.

But, as they say, good things must come to an end.

Belo, despite having 13 rebounds, was held to just nine points on 4-of-18 shooting as the Elite bowed to TNT Katropa, 92-83 — a sour loss knowing that they’re coming off huge 94-77 win against Ginebra last Friday.

“Bukol,” said Belo in jest of his poor outing after the match. “Big test para sa’min kasi yung TNT talagang isang de-kalibreng team dito sa PBA.

“Talagang pinaghandaan nila kami, at gustong-gusto nila manalo.”

It also did not help that the Katropa’s head coach, Nash Racela, was his coach in FEU Tamaraws for three years — a relationship brightly highlighted by a championship run in the UAAP Season 78 back in 2015.

“Siyempre alam niya yung mga tendencies ko. Matagal ko siyang coach sa FEU,” said the 6-foot-4 forward.

“Sa akin naman, kailangan ko pa matuto sa ganun, kung anong mga defense binabato niya sakin. Kailangan ko pang pag-aralan.”

But for Belo, the loss was more than his own showing. The 25-year-old lamented his and the Elite’s lapses on defense, which was encapsulated by the second half collapse they had that allowed TNT to come back and steal the win.

“Medyo marami lang kaming lapses especially sa defense namin,” said the sophomore forward, as they allowed TNT to shoot 41.6 percent from the floor. “Maraming mga miscommunication na kailangan pa namin i-work.”

Belo and the Elite are now set to move on from this bitter defeat, as they all shift their sights in their match this Friday versus GlobalPort Batang Pier. For the Gilas Pilipinas stalwart, it is already a must-win for them.

“Kailangan namin ng rest ngayon kasi back-to-back games kami. We need to win sa Friday para okay sa’min,” said Belo. “Kailangan din namin paghandaan kasi galing sila sa win.

“Kailangan namin i-double yung effort namin.”

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Jake Vicen performs under pressure as Blazers end eight-year title drought

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For the second straight match, the championship showdown between the College of Saint Benilde Blazers and the Arellano University Chiefs reached kicks from the penalty spot. And once more, goalkeeper Jake Vicen came up big.

The third-year custodian denied one of Arellano’s prolific scorers Roberto Corsame in the shootout and sealed the title after eight long years, 3-2, penalties, Wednesday evening at the historic Rizal Memorial Stadium.

The Blazers made its intentions clear from the get-go as they repeatedly pierced through the defense of the Chiefs.

Nonetheless, at the 38th minute, the white-shirts clinched the goal they much deserved. The Blazers pushed forward, and almost got a call in their favor. The referees, however, played advantage, and fortunately Benilde held on to the play.

Miguel Artillera found himself unmarked on the right flank and easily blasted the ball past opposing keeper Jericho Desalisa.

The Marlon Maro—mentored side continued to play aggressive in the following period and almost plucked a second one. This time, the Chiefs’ backline led by eventual Best Defender Patrick Bernarte held on.

Such stand was rewarded by their attacking force minutes later, and, as expected, the equalizer came from the counterattack.

Corsame received a pass from the middle and defeated two defenders, and seeing Vicen off his line, sent the ball into the onion bag at the 49th minute.

Both sides tried to break the deadlock, but fatigue slowly crept in the dying minutes of the second period and the whole of extra time, setting up another thrilling finish in the shootout.

Much like in Game 2, the two keepers came up big as Desalisa and Vicen denied their second kickers a clear shot. Arellano went to miss another shot, and it was then up to the Blazers to seal the deal.

Dean Ebarle stepped up and calmly and slotted the ball into the goal for the lead at 3-2. Afterwards, Corsame faced Vicen, but this time, the Cebuano keeper would not be denied. The latter went to his strong side, and, fortunately, guessed right for the huge save as pandemonium erupted from the Benilde crowd and squad.

The Finals series hero and season Best Goalkeeper Vicen was pleased that the new champions carved out the historic win despite early adversity. “Big loss ‘yun, si Val [Calvo], kasi may magagawa talaga siya kung nakalaro namin,” he said of losing their former captain.

Nonetheless, the squad stayed focused on getting it done this year.

“Binuhos lang namin every minute sa training. Luckily, hard work paid off,” closed Vicen.

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Kelly Williams rides Angkas to make it to TNT game

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The TNT Katropa almost played shorthanded when they took on the Blackwater Elite Wednesday evening at the SMART-Araneta Coliseum.

Early in the afternoon, a fire broke out in C5 that caused major traffic in the area. One of the people that was stuck was TNT’s 12-year veteran Kelly Williams.

“Coming from the South, I got to Taguig in about two and a half hours and I heard there was a fire on C5 and I was like, ‘Oh my god what am I going to do?’,” recalled Williams.

“I considered running, I considered jogging. Whatever you got to do, crawl, walk or run.”

Panicking, the 6-foot-6 Filipino-American was adviced by his driver to download Philippine-based mobile app Angkas — a motorcycle service provider. And it was one heck of a ride for the big man.

“My driver said check Angkas, an Uber for motorcycles. Okay. Quickly got out of the car in the middle of the C5, the middle of traffic, found this guy under the overpass, he was surprised to see me,” narrated animatedly by Williams.

“I got my helmet on, jumped on the bicycle and we got here for about 40 minutes,” he furthered. “Every stoplight, the other motorcycles pull up, double take, ‘Oh, what are you doing here?’, ‘Hi guys!’ It was fun, it was actually pretty fun but never again, make sure you plan ahead guys if you possibly get stuck in traffic.

“But it was a good experience for me. You get to see Manila in a different light.”

Around midway through the first quarter of the game, Williams finally arrived. Though relieved to see him, coach Nash Racela and the rest of the Katropa made sure to let him know that he was late.

“Good experience, I apologized to the team, I owe them a team lunch or something and I told coach I won’t do it again,” the 35-year-old expressed.

“Let’s pray that it doesn’t happen again.”

Williams compensated for it by giving TNT quality minutes. During their 92-83 win against the Elite, he tallied six points, six rebounds, and four blocks in just 17 minutes of action.

“You got to come out there with extra effort after coming in late like that. But it’s always my intention to come out and do whatever I have to do,” he expressed.

“Luckily, I was in a good position to get some blocks and it worked out that way.”

And he owes a lot to his driver Richard, who got him to the venue just in time.

“It was a good experience though, thank you to the cyclist, I think his name is Richard or something like that, he’s a lifesaver.

“I tipped him very handsomely. It was about a hundred but I’m sure I paid with whatever was in my pocket because I was very grateful,” he quipped.

Still, he knows that he also owes a lot to his team. He plans on making it up by treating everyone to lunch during their next practice.

Lesson learned for Kelly.

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