The Philippine Army Lady Troopers were one win away from winning another Shakey’s V-League plum but the PLDT Home Ultera Ultra Fast Hitters played the role of spoiler, winning the game in four sets 16-25, 22-25, 25-19, 18-25, to force a winner-takes-all match this coming Sunday.
Recently crowned Open Conference MVP Alyssa Valdez once again on full throttle as she dropped 26 points while PLDT’s tower of power Jaja Santiago lit up for 20 points and 5 blocks.
On the other hand, Ging Balse was the surprise player of the game as she led Army with 17 points and 6 blocks while Jovelyn Gonzaga, who was recently crowned as the V-League Season 12 Open Conference Best Opposite Spiker, had 12 points, 3 blocks, and 11 digs.
By mere observation of the game, PLDT made adjustments that shook off Army’s momentum, which they gained from the opening game of the championship series. Army was on full assault mode in the opening game, but PLDT’s counterattack forced them to sit idly by in the corner.
Now with their backs against the wall, Army head coach Rico De Guzman heads back to the drawing board and has five things to fix in his checklist.
Defense, defense, and more defense
Entering into the game, Army’s plan was clearly evident: Wear the enemy down with tenacious net and floor defense.
However, the Lady Troopers’ planned mode of attack that was on full display during the opening game was nowhere to be found in this one. The team’s blocking and floor defense went south and PLDT was able to capitalize on it.
In the first game, Army successfully subdued the Ultra Fast Hitters’ attacks by using multiple sets of blockers towards their high-octane hitters. If an attack gets through, Army showcased their gritty floor defense that kept the ball alive.
Come the second game, everything that the Lady Troopers did collapsed as PLDT imposed its will and completely erased their opponent’s strong defense to a pulp.
“Kung baga iyong blocking namin noong Game One lumabas at iyong floor defense namin lumabas din. Pero baliktad ngayon [Game Two] kasi nawala iyong blocking namin, floor defense, at yung receive, nawala lahat,” De Guzman further explained.
But, with everything on the line come Sunday, De Guzman badly needs his team to gang up and impose their game plan effectively against a very strong opponent. There is simply no room for error this time around with the stakes of the game very high.
“Siguro sa Game Three nandoon na lahat. Wala na siguro na makikita na maraming error at siguro controlled na namin kasi iyon na lang ang game,” De Guzman added. “Wala nang Game Four, Game Five, dahil hanggang Game Three na lang iyan. So ilalabas na namin lahat doon.”
The Daquis dilemma
In this Finals series, former Queen Tamaraw Rachel Ann Daquis, has been subpar in terms of her on-court performance. In two games played, she only managed to score a point in Game One while fuming out with a four-point feat in Game Two.
Already a proven player on her own right, Daquis is one of Army’s go-to options in the offensive end. She may not be as lethal as Valdez but she definitely can hold her own and produce points in bunches, given her prowess in launching loaded spikes.
However, the problem with the current Philippine team outside hitter is her overall health. Her coach recently revealed that she is dealing with a sore shoulder. It is not that serious and her team has high hopes that she will be a hundred percent come their rubber match.
“Masakit lang balikat niya at nagpapagaling lang. Hindi naman malala at kaya pa naman niya at makakarecover siya,” De Guzman elaborated further on Daquis’ current state. “Makakarecover iyan, nag-eexpect kami sa kanya na tataas ang laro niya sa Game Three.”
Containing PLDT’s two-headed beast
Whenever any team faces PLDT, the dynamic duo of Valdez and Santiago immediately enters the scene.
As everyone may know, Valdez packs the most lethal offensive arsenal in the league today by showcasing very powerful hits coupled with a series of smartly-placed drop balls. Moreover, her international experience made her even deadlier compared to her earlier playing years.
In Game One, Army’s plan of wearing down Valdez through multiple blocking patterns and steady floor defense worked effectively but carefully-planned adjustments ultimately opened up a lot of attack opportunities for her in the following game which made the Lady Troopers scramble for answers.
“Ilan lang ang na-block namin kay Valdez [in Game Two], konti lang. Hindi katulad noong Game One, puro drop ball na lang ginawa nila kasi puro blocked sila,” De Guzman further discussed. “Ngayon [Game Two] kasi hindi namin sila ma-block kaya pinaluan kami ng pinaluan. Wala rin kaming floor defense at receive kaya isa rin iyon sa mga dahilan kaya bumaba ang laro namin.”
On the other hand, Santiago improved leaps and bounds in the past months as she got the chance to be mentored by former Ateneo head coach and current National University honcho Roger Gorayeb in the UAAP. Her learning experience didn’t stop on that mark as she eventually found herself representing the country, and at the same time catching the eye of fellow Asian neighbors, in the recently concluded Asian Volleyball Confederation U23 Women’s Volleyball Championship.
Now, the 6-foot-5 middle blocker showcases the most power-packed quick attack in the country and has shown tremendous upside towards her serving and blocking skills. In the ongoing series, she has been a handful for Army so far especially when she is in the frontline of PLDT’s rotation.
“Talagang mahirap silang bantayan lalo na sa service kasi malaki ang improvement ni Jaja,” De Guzman added. “Compared doon sa mga dating laro niya, kahit ako nagulat sa ginagalaw niya kasi napakagaling na niya.”
“Siyempre kung si Jaja sa unahan, kung kailangan talagang three-man block kami, three-man block ang gagawin namin sa kanya. Kung sa service area naman siya, hindi lang libero ang may difference sa amin kasi halos lahat nagkakaroon ng error. Ilan na ang pinapatay niyan sa amin, dapat harapan siya ng receive para tumalbog man lang at mahabol natin. Ang nangyari kasi talbog sa labas at naging points agad sa kabila. So mag-double time kami sa receive lalo na pag si Jaja ang nasa service area.”
Dictating the tempo
One of the obvious differences between the two teams is their huge age gap. In Game One, Army relied on its veteran savvy to prevent PLDT from playing their usual briskly pace. With their carefully timed blockings and excellent floor defense that all ran through their preferred pace, it was enough for Army to take a 1-0 series lead.
But in the second game, everything went into PLDT’s way as they purposely exhausted Army’s floor defense to the point that their players became fatigued and sluggish. With that strategy, PLDT’s attackers immediately uncorked strong spike after strong spike to keep the opposition weary legs run until they get tired.
Finding that trend alarming, De Guzman further stressed that Army must play wiser in their next bout to avoid being helplessly sideswiped again. They must also play smarter defense when the opposition’s momentum is building up.
“Ito [PLDT] mabibilis. So nakita ko hindi na kami sumasabay sa bilis noong mga bata sa floor defense at doon kami natatalo. Napakarami nila nadepensahan sa ilalim at kami umaasa sa opensa lang,” De Guzman further elaborated. “Ang nangyayari sa amin sa likod, inaasahan namin na patay na agad opensa nila.”
Missing ally needed
As majority would’ve noticed, the Lady Troopers are missing the services of Carmina Aganon who recently wrapped up her duties for the Philippine Seniors Women’s Volleyball team that recently placed 12th in the 2015 Asian Women’s Volleyball Championship that took place in Tianjin, China.
With her absence, Army was forced to put open spiker Nene Bautista to be the backup opposite hitter in case Gonzaga needed a break. In addition, Aganon’s newly-acquired international experience will certainly be a big plus for her team’s side.
“Iyon din ang isang problema ko kasi kulang kami ng opposite. Iyong kapalitan ni Jovelyn, kapag nag 4-2 [offense] kami, wala siyang kapalitan. Ang ginagawa ko ngayon is alternating na lang sila ni Nene [Bautista]. Imbis na si Nene ang magamit ko sa outside, nagiging opposite siya kasi hindi naman niya trabaho iyon,” De Guzman added. “Malaking kalawan naman sa amin iyon, ang pagkawala ni Mina. Kung makahabol siya sa 31 eh di mas maganda kasi kumpleto na kami.”
The third game of this championship series will be this coming Sunday, 12:45 pm, at the Filoil Flying V Arena. The game will be aired live on GMA News TV Channel 11.
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