With ominous white and orange balloons hanging over the playing court and thousands of ruckus fans filling the stands, the PLDT Home Ultera Ultra Fast Hitters fulfilled lofty preseason expectations, clinching their first Shakey’s V-League title in a five-set classic over the defending champions, Army Lady Troopers 25-22, 18-25, 26-24, 28-26, 15-13 at the FilOil Flying-V Arena.
PLDT, as they have done all season, rode the hot hand of local volleyball superstar, Alyssa Valdez who dropped a game-high 29 points and 10 excellent digs. Jaja Santiago, who garnered her second SVL title and first MVP Award, and Gretchel Soltones, who won her first title since entering the collegiate ranks, both paced the PLDT offense with 17 points apiece. PLDT found themselves trailing for most of the up-and-down match with Army’s blocking forcing them into tight corners. Army tallied 19 block kills, the most of any team this season, to PLDT’s four but the Ultra Fast Hitters dug themselves out with their signature powerful attacking as they notched 63 attacks to Army’s 49.
Valdez got her high-flying act off early as she helped keep PLDT close in a tight first set. The Ultra Fast Hitters closed the opening set with a combined effort from Soltones and Santiago. Their play took a dive for an extended period as Army controlled the pace of the match masterfully with their blocking and explosive attacking from Jovelyn Gonzaga and Rachel Anne Daquis. The Lady Troopers handily took the second set and were in control for much of the third set until PLDT made a last minute run.
One point away from netting the third frame, 24-21, the Lady Troopers coughed up three consecutive errors and sent the set into a deuce. Army, however, quickly restored order as Jovelyn Gonzaga capped a combination play that gave Army advantage. Alyssa Valdez sent a cross-court attack long in the following point, giving Army a 2-1 sets advantage.
The Ultra Fast Hitters built an early lead in the following set, 12-8, with Valdez firing off four points within that stretch. Dindin Santiago-Manabat’s devastating running attacks buoyed the Lady Troopers from there, allowing them to tie the set at 14. What followed was another heavy back and forth with the Santiago sisters bannering the action that led to another deuce after a Sue Roces service error. Gretchel Soltones’ attacks put PLDT at set point twice, but her team’s errors kept the set at deuce. Tied at 26, Alyssa Valdez once again saved her team’s season, scoring the following two points off questionable receptions from her teammates and simultaneously sending the title match into a deciding fifth set.
Veteran composure and moves allowed Army to sniff a hefty lead early in the final set, 4-1. However, the Ultra Fast Hitters reacted quickly, eventually tying the match, 4-4, off a Jaja Santiago block and then taking a decisive 9-7 lead after Tina Salak mistimed her drop ball. The Ultra Fast Hitters came close to squandering their advantage with their own attack errors. An Alyssa Valdez attack that went wide tied the match at 13, prompting PLDT head coach, Roger Gorayeb to call for a timeout. His last minute talk proved crucial as his girls got the job done after the timeout. PLDT first scored off a beautiful double-quick play for Sue Roces then Jaja Santiago scored the championship point off a snap decision to tip a ball that Army overdug.
“Sinabihan ko lang ‘yung mga bata ng mga bagay na mag-uuplift sa kanila,” said Gorayeb in the post-match presser. “Lahat ng players nag-step up, si Jaja, si Gretchel, even si Denden at Tatan (Pantone), malaki ‘yung ginawa ng dalawang libero namin. Hindi na ‘rin talaga ako nag-focus sa kung anong kaya nilang (Army) gawin, nag-focus na lang ako sa kung ano ‘yung kailangan namin gawin.”
Recently named the SEA Games Women’s Volleyball team captian, Jovelyn Gonzaga led the Lady Troppers with 19 points while Dindin Santigo-Manabat delivered 17 points. After having a miserable first two games of the Finals, Rachel Anne Daquis rebounded with an 11-point outing.
PLDT (3) – Valdez 29, Santiago 17, Soltones 17, Roces 9, Soriano 4, De Leon 2, Devanadera 1, Kasilag 0, Villanueva 0, Ferrer 0, Lazaro (L), Pantone (L)
Army (2) – Gonzaga 19, Manabat 17, Balse 13, Daquis 11, Tubino 6, Salak 5, Aganon 4, Bautista 1, Torres 0, Agn (L)
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