The Philippine Army Lady Troopers opened the first semifinal round-robin of the 12th Season of the Shakey’s V-League Open Conference with a hard-earned, 25-21, 21-25, 19-25, 25-20, 15-9, victory at the expense of the Meralco Power Spikers, Tuesday afternoon at the Filoil Flying V Arena in San Juan City.
Army’s Jovelyn Gonzaga scored a team-high 15 points, while four other teammates racked up double-digit outputs. On the other side, former DLSU standouts, Cha Cruz and Abigail Maraño, tallied 17 and 16, respectively, but the duo’s hefty contribution fell short, failing to give Meralco a win despite getting two of the first three sets.
Army started the game as the better team, leading mostly throughout the first set. A deep roster saw several Lady Troopers taking turns in scoring, which was a concern for Meralco in the encounter. Gonzaga, Honey Royse Tubino, Mary Jean Balse, Dindin Santiago-Manabat, and Rachel Ann Daquis showcased a total team effort that enabled them to take the first set, 25-21. It was not a walk in the park though for the Lady Troopers, who had to make sure that momentum stayed with them in the whole of the opening set.
Defeated in the first set, Meralco powered their way back courtesy of Arianna Angustia, who scored four of her team’s first 11 points to give Meralco a comfortable 11-6 lead. Army were also struggling to hit the mark as inefficency in spiking allowed their opponents to pull away. Down by as huge as seven, Army tried to crawl their way back into the set. The Lady Troopers trimmed the deficit to three at 17-20, but Meralco’s experienced bunch of Maica Morada, Stephanie Mercado, Cruz, and Maraño poured in enough points to keep their foes at bay. Like the first set, the second ended at 25-21, but in favor of the Power Spikers.
At that moment, both teams knew that winning the third set is a must in order to move closer in grabbing the win. Army looked like they were recovering from the second set loss by outscoring Meralco, 9-5, with substitute Nerissa Bautista coming up big off the bench by scoring five points in that stretch. Determined not to lose ground, Meralco took full advantage of Army’s errors to go ahead by three, 14-11. Army got back on their feet and knotted the set once more at 16-all, but it was all they can do in the third frame. Meralco strengthened their net defense to gain set point with an 8-1 run. Bautista, who was leading the way for the Lady Troopers, did her best to keep Army alive, but Mercado ended the period after two failed tries with a kill. Just like that, Meralco only needed a set to close out the match.
With their backs against the wall, Army showed resilience their unit is known for. Rested in the previous set, Santiago-Manabat scored four points to build a 7-1 lead for the Lady Troopers. Trailed by 10 at the maximum, the Power Spikers failed in all of their attempts to level the score although they managed to draw closer at 21-20 after Carmina Aganon’s spike sailed wide. Aware that a mishap may well result in a loss, Army strung up four straight points, two off Meralco’s errors to force a gripping fifth set.
In the payoff set, Meralco built a 9-6 lead. Getting there, Angelica Legacion scored two early service aces while veteran teammates Morada, Cruz, and Maraño also made their spikes count. Again on the brink of defeat, the Lady Troopers mightily rallied their way to get a win. Cristina Salak’s drop ball ignited Army, who kept on scoring via Balse, Tubino, and Santiago-Manabat. Ahead 14-12, the Lady Troopers did not permit Meralco to make things interesting as Tubino easily spiked the ball into an open space on the left side to seal the win for Rico De Guzman’s team.
“Semifinals na ito eh. Matalo ka ng isang beses dito medyo kritikal na tapos kapag dalawa na talo out ka na sa finals. Gagawin mo lahat ng paraan sa game na ito. Kung kailangan balasahin kung sino yung nagpeapeak at bunutin, gagawin ko,” shared Army coach De Guzman. Not bothered by a few of his players chasing another volleyball game, the staff sergeant who is at the helm for Army wisely rotated his deep squad towards guiding them to an important win. With one win down, he turns his sights on the still-undefeated PLDT Ultra Fast Hitters. “Yes, babawi kami sa PLDT. Yung nilaro namin dito napakababa. Hindi kami pwedeng ganoon ang nilalaro sa PLDT,” De Guzman said. He also noted that the girls are hungry to play better against the only team that handed them a loss.
The said encounter of PLDT and Army will be held on Sunday, still at the Filoil Flying V Arena, at 12:45 PM. Meanwhile, the Meralco Power Spikers will aim to get themselves back on track when they face the Cagayan Valley Lady Rising Suns right after.
Philippine Army (3) – Gonzaga 15, Satiago-Manabat 13, Daquis 12, Tubino 11, Balse 10, Aganon 6, Bautista 6, Salak 5, Bunag 2, Sabas 1, Agno (L), Siatan-Torres (L)
Meralco (2) – Cruz 17, Maraño 16, Morada 11, Mercado 8, Angustia 8, Legacion 4, Guevara 1, Hingpit 1, Reyes(L)