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SVL Campfire Open Conference Finals: An Institution Fighting the Power!

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While 2015 has been such a huge year for local volleyball, we fans haven’t really been treated to a thrilling, non-lopsided Finals series in any of the major local volleyball leagues. Arellano was too much for Baste in the NCAA, injuries robbed us of another epic La Salle-Ateneo duel in the UAAP, and though our hearts melted for the effervescent Shopinas.com Lady Clickers, the Petron Blaze Spikers met their bubbles with a deadly flamethrower of talent in the PSL.

But things are looking up for us in the Shakey’s V-League Open Conference Finals with arguably the two best local volleyball clubs today (maybe ever) colliding in what could be this year’s best volleyball finals.

On one side, we have the grizzled veterans of the Army Lady Troopers. Their roster is filled with players once deemed to be the future of local volleyball. If names like Tina Salak, Rachel Anne Daquis, Nene Bautista, Ging Balse, and Jovelyn Gonzaga don’t ring any of your bells, then you should really watch more volleyball, you casual! If those players don’t make you tremble, Army also received an infusion of young talent in returning guest players Dindin Manabat, Mina Aganon, and Army recruits Tin Agno and Royse Tubino. The Lady Troopers have been unbeatable in past V-League seasons. Their rivals, Cagayan, needed imports to steal a crown from them. This season proved much of the same as they easily plowed through every team – except PLDT.

The PLDT side is a young and thundering herd of some of the most celebrated and followed local athletes. Having Alyssa Valdez and Jaja Santiago lead the way, the Ultra Fast Hitters are still undefeated. When teams focused on stopping the Valdez/Santiago attack, PLDT showed their depth and pulled key contributions from other starters Kuya Sue Roces, Gretchel Soltones, Charo Soriano and Rubie De Leon. They’ve even gotten contribution from bench players Elaine Kasilag, Macey Mendiola, and Amanda Villanueva when players went down due to injuries.

PLDT was the only team Army couldn’t beat but they came pretty damn close just last Sunday. Can Army retain their place atop the totem pole? Or is this the start of PLDT’s dynasty? We take a look at each team’s chances.

It’s Valdez’s world, and we’re just living in it

SVL PLDTvsMeralco-4648

Alyssa Valdez, at her young age, has dominated Philippine volleyball better than any other local athlete has dominated their respective sport. The stress of having to figure out how to stop her still expanding offensive repertoire has probably knocked a few years off some coaches’ life expectancies. Even international coaches had their face in their palms when they saw Valdez’s power.

She’s currently the Conference’s best attacker. Blasting attacks to and from all angles with the constant threat of her toggling to a sudden soft drop shot, Alyssa has been the definition of unstoppable and defenses haven’t found the perfect balance to effectively limit Valdez.

Yet one has to wonder about her physical state. As, Coach Roger Gorayeb has said in post game pressers, Alyssa has been playing through a variety of illnesses as well as the knee and thumb injuries she incurred during the AVCU23 tournament. Still, it seems that Alyssa at 80% is better than 100% of other attackers in the league and she’s bound to slowly recover from those injuries.

As Army Coach, Rico De Guzman quipped, Valdez has a “slippery” attacking pattern and his usually tremendous blockers and back row defenders have had a rough go reading Alyssa’s attacks. Jovelyn Gonzaga is one of the top opposite hitters in the country and she’s made a living out of stifling opposing open hitters but going against Valdez has always been an adventure for the “Bionic Gwapa”. Coach Rico emphasizes that everyone on the court has to focus on stopping the PLDT offense specially when it goes to Valdez late in sets.

However, that is easier said than done as PLDT has done a marvelous job in varying its offense, even off poor receptions and digs; something that has to be credited to the veteran savvy of setter, Rubie De Leon. Stopping the Valdez-powered offense is Army’s top priority but there are other things they could much easily excel at to win the Finals.

On First Contacts

SVL NavyvsBaguio-8385

Army, to its credit, boasts a balanced offensive arsenal that at times seems harder to figure out than PLDT’s Valdez-Hokey-Pokey attack. Everyone on the team is a threat to nab a kill especially now that they’ve seemed to better incorporate Royse Tubino and Dindin Manabat into their attack. The offense ran clumsily early in the season when most of Army’s key players still had obligations with other leagues, but now they’ve been running combination plays and other quirky attacks like gazelles in African plains.

Although the key that has been emphasized by their coach ad nauseum this season, is to always get a good first contact on the ball so they have a better chance of cranking out their offense. The two first contacts on the ball a team can have in volleyball is the service and the service reception. A nicely loaded service can not only lead to aces, but also free balls if the opposing setter is dislodged enough to get a good toss off. Good service reception often leads to a team setting up their beat play, increasing the chance of getting an immediate return kill which makes trimming or building a lead much easier.

Army has been spotty at both skills at certain points this season; often floundering away services and relaxed with their reception. Their inconsistency proved costly against PLDT last Sunday as they held manageable leads late in crucial sets, only to lose focus and let PLDT back in contention. The Lady Troopers are at an extreme disadvantage if it plans to go toe-to-toe in long rallies with PLDT. Long rallies are often marred with tough digs and saves which too often leaves teams with only the option of setting to the open spiker. PLDT has the best open spiker in the game to lean on, so it would be in Army’s best interest not to give away free balls. Army’s best offense comes when Dindin stampedes to the right side of the net for a running hit or when the setter uses Daquis or Gonzaga for a differential play. Army has to play fast in order to thwart PLDT or else the Ultra Fast Hitters will just break their hearts in plodding long rallies.

Intangibles

Daquis arms raise

Sometimes, as Coach Gorayeb divulged last Sunday, it’s not about skills or stats in volleyball. More often than not, the team with the best chemistry comes out on top. Gorayab pointed out that his team hasn’t been together as long as the Lady Troopers have, giving his team a distinct disadvantage.

Gorayeb’s concerns are valid. Army has had a knack of taking big games by winning every big point and coughing up less in their championship seasons. Much of this season has been played with barely any complete practice for Army due to the simultaneous schedule of the PSL and SVL. Given ample time to prepare, Army might just show it still hasn’t peaked yet and take the championship.

PLDT’s main gunners had the complete opposite problem with Army – they had too much practice. Sometimes, Valdez, Soltones, and Santiago would practice thrice a day. Though they say they’re fine, their on-court demeanor in long games and reported illnesses say otherwise.

Army is definitely the healthier team in the matchup. But how much does that matter when a fever-stricken Alyssa Valdez scored 35 points on them?

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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

After getting first D-League experience, Zark’s-Lyceum ready to get loose

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After a hesitant performance in their PBA D-League debut last Thursday that resulted in a loss to the Marinerong Pilipino Skippers, the Zark’s Burger-Lyceum Jawbreakers seemingly caught up with the league’s style of play on Tuesday.

Zark’s-Lyceum displayed their true form and stamped their class all over the Batangas-EAC Generals with a 37-point destruction, 112-75 — so far the biggest winning margin the franchise has ever had in its D-League history.

“Medyo adjusted na kami on everything — the calls and the teams we’re playing against with,” said Zark’s-Lyceum head coach Topex Robinson after the match at Pasig Sports Center. “But the things we want to mind are those things we control.

“We just have to keep on doing what we are doing. It’s more on replenishing na lang on our old ways.”

Robinson’s claim was strongly backed up by the numbers that the Jawbreakers produced.

CJ Perez had 21 points and 10 rebounds. MJ Ayaay produced 15 points and 10 boards, and Mike Nzeusseu delivered 14 markers and 11 boards.

Even the bench made their presence felt in the victory. With guard Jaycee Marcelino spearheading the supporting cast’s charge with 12 markers, the bench contributed a remarkable 56 points to their total output.

Photo by PBA Images

“Ano lang, cinontrol lang namin yung pace kasi yun naman talaga yung laro namin, yung mabilisan,” said the 24-year-old do-it-all forward, who also collected three steals.

“Kailangan talaga mabilisan para ma-execute namin yung mga ginagawa namin.”

This week will be a rough one for the Pirates, as they will play right away this Thursday against the AMA Online Education. And for Perez, he strongly believes that they will be able to carry over their momentum.

“Oo. Nandun pa. Energy talaga yung puhunan namin para makalaro ng maayos.”

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Basketball

Bonbon Batiller shows what he can bring to Letran in D-League debut

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Photo by PBA Images

Tuesday proved to be a double debut for Bonbon Batiller. Aside from beginning his first foray in the PBA D-League, it also marked his debut for the Letran Knights, who are carrying the Wang’s Basketball Couriers franchise.

And the 5-foot-11 guard showed what he can bring to the table. Batiller collected 15 points, five rebounds, and three assists to help the Knights raise the curtains of their campaign with a 93-75 rout of the Batangas-EAC Generals.

“Nagworkout yung pinagpraktisan namin,” said Batiller. “Nagbunga rin yung tinuro samin ni Coach Jeff (Napa) lalo sa depensa. Tsaka siguro sa rebounds — laking lamang namin sa rebound. Nagsipag mga bigs namin.”

But what has him even more satisfied is the warm reception and trust he’s had from the Knights, even if he has spent barely a year with them after transferring from University of the East last 2017.

“Masaya po kasi tinanggap nila ako sa Letran ng buong-buo,” said Batiller, who normed 10.5 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 1.6 steals with UE in two years. “Tsaka yung tiwala nila na makakatulong ako sa team nandoon.

“Kaya masaya ako sa pinakita nila sa akin.”

That is why the General Santos native is hard-pressed to prove himself to Letran, saying that he’s all about giving back to the school that gave him another opportunity to resume his young, up-and-coming basketball career.

“Kailangan kong may mapatunayan na deserving ako sa binigay na second chance sa akin ni Letran,” said Batiller, who decided to switch schools partly due to academic reasons.

“Malaki ang utang ko sa Letran.”

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Football

Bienvenido Maranon scores brace as Ceres-Negros eliminates Brisbane Roar

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Photo from the-AFC.com

Philippine club football just achieved its biggest continental result yet

The inaugural Philippines Football League champions Ceres-Negros Football Club eliminated three-time Australian champions Brisbane Roar in the 2018 AFC Champions League’s second preliminary round with a 3-2 stunner, away at the QSAC Stadium in Brisbane.

With the win, the 2017 AFC Cup ASEAN Zonal Champions are set to face Chinese Super League club Tianjin Quanjian next January 30, 2018 at the Haihe Educational Football Stadium in Tianjin, China, to book a seat in the group stages.

Brisbane were the favorites for this tie and it showed, as Ceres started the contest on the back foot. Italian striker Massimo Maccarone handed the home side the lead in the 35th minute when he turned in Brett Holman’s pass.

Maccarone’s goal could have lowered the Busmen’s moral, but Risto Vidakovic’s men took it as a motivation rather than a downer. In fact, Ceres replied in the best way possible when Bienvenido Maranon scored his first goal of the match two minutes from halftime, thanks to a scramble in the Brisbane box.

By all accounts, Ceres had already made Philippine football proud at halftime. By this stage last year, Brisbane had accrued a 4-0 halftime cushion against Global Cebu en route to a 6-0 rout.

Today, though, Brisbane faced tougher resistance at Ceres’ hands. That resistance turned into a full-fledged revolt in the 65th minute when Maranon directed the ball past a helpless Jamie Young to give the Busmen their first taste of the lead.

Maranon’s goal well and truly turned the tide in Ceres’ favor. Brisbane were stunned. The home side are the defending A-League champions, but are currently eighth in the table this season and would soon face elimination from Asia’s premier club competition.

Already up 2-1, the Busmen finally achieved some breathing room in the 75th minute when Omid Nazari scored from close range to give Ceres a two-goal cushion over Brisbane.

Nazari’s goal not only sealed the win for Ceres, it also propelled Philippine football into the big leagues. Not even a late goal from French midfielder Éric Bauthéac could prevent the Busmen’s victory.

After five minutes of stoppage time, Ceres emerged 3-2 winners against Brisbane Roar. Come what may against Tianjin seven days from now, the Busmen have already achieved Philippine football’s biggest result since their own achievement in last season’s AFC Cup.

Who knows? Maybe Ceres can pull off another upset?

Ceres-Negros XI: Doblas (GK), Super, Mike Ott, Ingreso, Maranon, Porteria, Schrock, De Murga (C), Munoz, Nazari, Christaens.

Brisbane Roar XI: Ingham, Bowles, Papadopoulos, Maccarone, Holman, Khalfallah, Oxborrow, McKay (C), Hingert, Young (GK), Franjic.

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EAC

CJ Perez, Zark’s-Lyceum vent ire on Batangas-EAC with 37-point romp

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Photo by PBA Images

CJ Perez and the Zark’s Burger-Lyceum Jawbreakers finally lived up to their hype, as they clobbered the Batangas-EAC Generals to score a 37-point beatdown, 112-75 for their first win, Tuesday at the Pasig Sports Center.

It was an all-out attack from the Jawbreakers, as they beat the Generals to the bite and took control of the game early, with Mike Nzeusseu and Jaycee Marcelino guiding their side to the 48-33 lead at halftime which they would never surrender.

Perez paced Zark’s Burger-Lyceum with 21 points and 10 rebounds, while MJ Ayaay tallied a double-double with his 15 markers, 10 boards, and three assists.

Cameroonian student-athlete Nzeusseu also delivered 14 points, 11 rebounds, and two assists. Marcelino had eight first half points and wound up with 12 off the bench, as the reserves chipped in 56 huge points in the tussle.

Coach Topex Robinson lauded the Jawbreakers for quickly adjusting to the style of the PBA D-League just days after falling to the Marinerong Pilipino, 92-94, back in opening day.

“Medyo adjusted na kami on everything — the calls and the teams were playing against with. But the things we want to mind are those things we control. We just have to keep on doing what we are doing. It’s more on replenishing na lang on our old ways,” he said.

Earvin Mendoza and Cedric de Joya both had 16 points for the Generals in the losing effort.

Zark’s-Lyceum look to continue to roll when they face the AMA Online Education Titans on Thursday, January 25. EAC-Batangas, on the other hand, take on the Gamboa-St. Clare Coffee Lovers on Monday, January 29.

The Scores:

Zark’s-Lyceum 112 — Perez 21, Ayaay 15, Nzeusseu 14, Jc. Marcelino 12, Serrano 10, Baltazar 8, Santos 8, Jv. Marcelino 6, Tansingco 6, Marata 4, Liwag 4, Ibañez 2, Cinco 2, Pretta 0.

Batangas-EAC 75 — E. Mendoza 16, De Joya 16, Tampoc 12, Laude 9, Pate 8, Maguliano 6, Altamirano 5, Diego 3, Garcia 0, Dela Peña 0, Martin 0, J. Mendoza 0, Neri 0.

Quarterscores: 19-14, 48-33, 84-47, 112-75.

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