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Loaded Cagayan Valley squad shakes off slow start, clinches opening day win over Champion Infinity

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Overflowing with UAAP stars, the Cagayan Valley Rising Suns quickly recovered from shaky opening set showings to pull off a thrilling five-set comeback at the expense of the Champion Infinity Active Smashers 23-25, 24-26, 25-21, 25-22, 16-14 at the opening day of the Spiker’s Turf men’s volleyball tournament at the San Juan Arena.

Showing visible lack of chemistry through the first two sets, Cagayan’s former UAAP MVPs Marck Espejo and Peter Torres eventually found their groove to close out a surprisingly feisty Champion Side. Espejo finished the match with a team-high 24 points while Torres contributed 16 markers, most of which came in the last three sets.

The first set opened with a see-saw battle for control littered with multiple errors. The Active Smashers pulled away after Joven Camaganakan smashed an attack off two blockers, giving his team a 15-12 advantage. From there, the Active Smashers maintained their advantage as the Rising Suns struggled to put together competent attacks.

Marck Espejo opened the second set with with three consecutive attacks leading to an early 6-1 Cagayan lead. Champion nibbled away at the lead with steady floor defense and serving that eventually frustrated Cagayan’s attackers enough for Cagayan to reclaim the lead at 11-10. Both teams continued to trade blows before Cagayan’s errors reared its ugly head again. Cagayan forced a deuce after trailing 23-20, but collapsed in the end game with an error and unguarded Joven Camaganakan attack.

Cagayan dominated with their offense in the following sets to force a deciding fifth set. Espejo, Torres, and their former teammates, Berlin Paglinawan and Rex Intal, showed renewed chemistry, limiting their attack errors and even conspiring for multiple combination attacks.

The Rising Suns grabbed a hold of the momentum early in the deciding set, as five early points from Marck Espejo and Peter Torres earned them an early 8-4 advantage. They carried the four-point advantage up until set-point, 14-10, inspiring a late Active Smashers hijacking attempt. Champion scored four consecutive points highlighted by a Rocky Honrade quick attack that sent the match into deuce. A Den Relata service error opened the door for an unimpeded Marck Espejo attack that netted Cagayan their first victory.

University of Perpetual Help – Laguna standout, Champion’s Joven Camaganakan, led all scorers with 26 points. However, Champion’s game-high 42 errors, most of which came from the final two sets, hampered their upset effort.

“Siymepre ‘di pa kami (Cagayan) masyadong nagkakagamayan kasi nakaka-dalawang practice pa lang sila Espejo at Intal. Si Espejo di siya katulad ng iba, ‘yung iba pag ganoon na kagaling parang superstar na ‘yung dating pero siya mapagkumbaba, madali siyang sabihan,” said legendary Cagayan Coach, Nes Pamilar about his new team.

Cagayan will face Cavite next on April 9 while Champion has Army on April 12.

The Scores:

Cagayan (3) – Espejo 24, Torres 16, Intal 9, Paglinawan 9, Pirante 6, Gatdula 5, Ordoñez 2, Santos 0, Canlas 0, Ramos (L)

Champion (2) – Camaganakan 26, Antonio 13, Laja 10, Espiritu 7, Mandane 6, Honrade 6, Molate 1, Abdulwahab 0, Hu (L)

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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