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Sophomore Laure ready to lead veteran UST squad

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With the talent they’ve had over the years, the University of Santo Tomas Tigresses should not have missed being in the Final Four for so long.

Last season, UST had almost ended their futility. After a roller-coaster elimination round, the Tigresses had two chances to secure a Final Four slot by the tail end of the tourney, but blew both and settled for another fifth-place finish.

The off-season brought major changes to the España-based sqaud. Kungfu Reyes took over head coaching duties for Odjie Mamon and, just last December, Season 77 team captain Pam Lastimosa suffered an ACL tear that will sideline her for the rest of Season 78.

Any sort of turnover could have easily derailed their delicate chemistry and focus. But new team captain, last season’s Rookie of the Year Ej Laure, is looking to spark a shift in culture.

SVL-3rd-FEU-vs-UST-G2-Laure-attack

The Tigresses usually have a senior as team captain. But when the upperclassmen showed a decline in performance while trying to lead the team, Reyes knew he had to adjust.

Reyes is familiar with Laure’s leadership style and calm demeanor, having coached her to a championship with the Junior Tigresses. But Reyes hasn’t just chosen Laure out of familiarity; she has also shown incremental improvement over the off-season.

“Siyempre sobrang saya ko na kahit isa ako sa mga bata sa team, nabigyan ako ni coach ng ganitong responsibility to lead the team. Ang laking motivation nito para sa akin,” said Laure.

When asked if there was any conflict with the seniors over the decision to make her captain, Laure assures that everyone has been really supportive.

“Ang sabi po nila coach, before pa ma-injure si Ate Pam (Lastimosa), gusto na nila na maiba ‘yung captain. Right now, lahat naman po ng teammates ko ay very supportive. Malaki po ‘yung mga naitutulong ng mga ate sa team sa akin sa pag-manage ng team,” Laure told. “Lahat po focused and determined na makabalik sa Final Four. Alam naming kailangan namin magtulungan.”

Playing for UST, Laure admits that there will always be pressure.

“May pressure naman po lagi kasi may tradition ang UST of success in volleyball. Lalo na po ngayong matagal na kaming wala sa Final Four, ang gusto lang namin makabalik doon para masuklian ‘yung suporta sa amin ng school and coaches.”

The Tigresses will open their season against the Adamson Lady Falcons tomorrow, 2 p.m. at the PhilSports Arena.

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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

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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TNT limits Blackwater gunners to snap two game skid

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Needing to end the funk they are in, the TNT Katropa completed a second half turnaround and thwarted an inspired Blackwater Elite squad, 92-83, to finally lay their two-game slump to rest, Wednesday evening at the SMART Araneta Coliseum.

Both squads are now sporting identical 2-2 cards after the match, creating a six-way logjam with Phoenix, Rain or Shine, NLEX, and Alaska in the team standings.

“Our rotation messed up in the first half, good thing we recovered in the second half,” shared Katropa head coach Nash Racela of their slow start. “Going into this game, we knew that we gonna have a hard time against Blackwater.

“We knew that it’s not gonna be easy getting a victory over them. It would take our absolute best and they really able to challenge us, especially in the second half. [Good thing] our shots started to fall,” added the tactician.

Roger Pogoy top-billed for the Texters with 24 points on 10-of-14 shooting from the floor along with eight rebounds, three assists, and two steals. Jayson Castro, had 17 markers on top of five boards, three dimes, two steals, and two blocks.

The Katropa trailed in the majority of the first 24 minutes, but it all changed come the third canto where they unloaded an overwhelming 16-3 run — ended by Rosario’s lay-up — to take a 60-53 lead with 2:56 left in the quarter.

TNT then never relinquished their position in the driver’s seat, even leading by as much as 17 points, 76-59, after RR Garcia’s open triple from the right wing with 8:51 in the final period.

The Elite still tried to come back through a 20-9 rally led by Mike Cortez and Poy Erram to knock within six, 79-85, but Castro’s three-point play conversion that sent TNT to an 88-79 lead with 1:04 left proved to be the game-sealing dagger.

Garcia finished with 12 points for TNT who shot 41.6 percent from the floor. Anthony Semerad had 11, while Troy Rosario flirted with a double-double of nine markers and 11 boards. Mo Tautuaa grabbed 15 caroms and scored six.

The Elite, after shooting 42.6 percent in the 94-77 win over Ginebra last Friday, shot just 38.3 percent. They were led by Erram with 20 points and eight rebounds, and Cortez with 14 markers on top of five boards and three assists.

Mac Belo, after averaging 20 markers in the last three games, finished with just nine markers on 4-of-18 shooting. He made up for it though with 13 rebounds. Main gunner Allein Maliksi also scored nine on 4-of-15 shooting.

TNT will look to post another win against sister team Meralco on Sunday, January 21, 4:30 PM at Ynares Center in Antipolo, while Blackwater will aim to bounce back versus GlobalPort on Friday January 19 4:30 PM at the Cuneta Astrodome.

The Scores:

TNT 92 – Pogoy 24, Castro 17, Garcia 12, Semerad 11, Rosario 9, Williams 6, Tautuaa 6, Reyes 2, Golla 0, Onwubere 0, Carey 0.

Blackwater 83 – Erram 20, Cortez 14, Digregorio 9, Belo 9, Maliksi 9, Jose 7, Sumang 5, Marcelo 4, Sena 4, Pinto 2, Cruz 0.

Quarterscores: 15-16, 36-43, 65-57, 92-83.

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