The PLDT Home Ultera Ultra Fast Hitters had breezed through the Shakey’s V-League Reinforced Conference, except for when they faced the Philippine Army Lady Troopers. Parading a mix of veterans and new recruits, Army have had PLDT’s number the whole tournament up — until the second set of Game One of the Shakey’s V-League Reinforce Conference Finals.
The Ultra Fast Hitters had even added two American imports, the towering pair of Sareea Freeman and Victoria Hurtt, to hopefully overpower the Lady Troopers, but lack of chemistry limited the effectiveness of their Division I reinforcements.
Luckily, PLDT still had local volleyball phenomenon, Alyssa Valdez. The two-time UAAP MVP had sat out all of PLDT’s matches leading up to the Finals to rest nagging injuries sustained through a busy year of volleyball.
Valdez almost didn’t play Game One as well. PLDT head coach Roger Gorayeb recalled the ruckus in the 12 hours leading up to Game One. “Kagabi ko lang nalaman – mga 10:30 (nasabi sa akin na hindi makakapaglaro si Alyssa). Kaninang umaga ko na rin lang siya nakausap sabi ko ‘Ly, kung anumang desisyon mo, rerespetuhin ko. Just try to weigh things.’ Hanggang nag-start na ‘yung game, nagulat ako na may kumalabit sa akin. Hinahanap ‘yung uniporme ni Alyssa, magalalaro na daw siya. Edi pinakuha ko sa sasakyan. Matagal nang nasa akin ‘yun (uniform), mula pa noong mag-umpisa ito (SVL),” Gorayeb told the media.
As it turned out, PLDT sorely needed Valdez. The Queen Eagle powered in a game-high 25 markers, towing PLDT during the tough stretches of the match when Army dragged them to multiple deuces. Valdez made PLDT’s All-Filipina lineup work as the Ultra Fast Hitters had opted to bench their imports down the stretch.
“Iba talahga yan si Alyssa – ang lakas niyang maka-intimidate sa kalaban, ang lakas niya ding mag-inspire ng mga kakampi niya. Maswerte ako na sa akin siya naglalaro,” Gorayeb said of his former Ateneo ward.
Gorayeb, however, emphasized that getting his imports involved will be imperative for Game Two. The National Team head coach noticed that his setters were tossing too low to their American hitters, causing the imports to adjust and shoot weak hits. “Hindi mo matatalo ang Army nang patapik-tapik lang. Kailangan may pwersa ang mga hampas namin. Nasa coach na rin naman ang desisyon sa pag-aadjust. Hindi ko namang hahayaan na mabaon ang team ko,” Gorayeb said as his team coughed up a whooping 48 errors. “Mabuti na lang talaga malalim ang team ko. Kahit sino ipasok ko, makakapag-contribute. Sila Kuya (Sue Roces), Grethcel (Soltones), Aiza (Maizo-Pontillas), Janine (Marciano) ang laki ng mga contribution nila sa opensa.”
For Game Two, Gorayeb acknowledged that he was going to need his imports to contribute. “Tatrabahuhin namin ngayong linggo na maintegrate ‘yung mga import. Kailangan talaga namin sila.”
Game Two will take place on Sunday, December 6 at the FilOil Flying V Arena.