San Sabastian’s Grethcel Soltones is the best player in the NCAA – no case can be made for anyone else.
All season, the Lady Stags looked to the reigning MVP to carry much of the offensive load against taller and deeper teams. Usually, Soltones would pull through with just enough support from her teammates (they went undefeated after all).
But, for the first time this season, Soltones wasn’t enough. In Game One of the Finals last Tuesday at the FilOil Flying V Centre, a determined College of Saint Benilde Lady Blazers finally found an effective way to stop the Lady Stags.
Working off their considerable height advantage, the Lady Blazers shut off Soltones’ strongest attacking angles through double and sometimes even triple blocks, making the league’s best scorer work for every point. It also didn’t help the Lady Stags that their usually solid service reception game liquefied instantaneously from the second set onwards.
The usually positive and all-smiles Soltones turned uncharacteristically agitated. Soltones still managed 27 points but needed 70 attack attempts to convert 26 points. She also didn’t score a single service ace off her dreaded jump serve, as fatigue visibly set in from her virtuoso effort. No other Lady Stag scored in double-digits, with the next best scorer only contributing six points. The Lady Blazers had three players in double-digits, the towering Jeanette Panaga leading the way with 23.
“Nagkagulo kami, then nawala ‘yung communication namin. Tapos nawalan ng tiwala sa sarili hanggang sa wala na sa aming lumalaban,” a visibly worn-out Soltones told Tiebreaker Times after the match.
Having beaten the Lady Blazers in their final match of the elimination round, Soltones could not explain why her team had suddenly struggled. “Nung last game namin, hindi naman ganoon. Nawalan na lang kami ng diskarte.”
Soltones admits that when the fourth set came, she too had given up as the match started to crumble away.
“Umayaw na din ako noong fourth set. Wala e, ganoon talaga ‘yung game. Nandoon kami sa taas then biglang lagapak.”
However, the Lady Stags aren’t in too deep a hole, with the thrice-to-beat advantage they earned after sweeping the elimination round coming in handy.
With the championship now coming down to a virtual best-of-three, Soltones hopes her team can get back in form.
“Pukpukan na lang po siguro kami sa training. Si coach na bahala doon. Tiwala na lang sa sarili sa gagawin namin sa susunod na game. Usap na lang kami ulet about sa game.”
The Lady Stags will try to resuscitate their campaign on Game Two, Friday, 4 p.m. at the FilOil Flying V Centre.