With a loaded lineup of the country’s top volleyball veterans, the overlying storyline with the PLDT Home Ultera Ultra Fast Spikers was how they were able to map out equal playing time for all their players. Though they haven’t totally figured out their lineup problems, PLDT’s imposing contingent of Thomasians pulled them past the former PSL Champs, Cignal HD Spikers, in four sets, 25-20, 27-29, 25-22, 25-21 in the first season of the Spiker’s Turf at the San Juan Arena.
The core that brought UST it’s last title all figured in double digits against Cignal. Middle Blocker, Jayson Ramos delivered 16 points off 12 attacks, two blocks, and two aces. Former UAAP Best Attackers, John Paul Torres and Mark Alfafara notched 14 points apiece, while Henry James Pecaña pitched in 12 markers. PLDT also experimented with their setters, toggling between team captain, Rolando Casillan, and NU’s Vince Mangulabnan. PLDT wound up finishing the match with Mangulabanan, who delivered 26 assists on PLDT’s 65 attacks.
“Nagkataon lang ‘to,” PLDT Coach, Odjie Mamon, replied when asked about the splendid performance of his former UST Tigers. “Kay Jayson (Ramos) warm-up pa lang kita nang [maganda ‘yung ilalaro niya]. May personal goals [‘yung mga middle blockers namin]. Meron silang narinig from somewhere, and they took it as a challenge. Observation nila sa lineup na mahina ‘yung gitna. Kaya okay naman. Maganda ‘yung resulta.”
PLDT started the match strong as John Paul Torres and Jayson Ramos had no problems bombarding Cignal’s shorter blockers. Cignal tried to trim PLDT’s steady four-point advantage as Cebu’s Edmar Bonono and former La Sallian, Red Christensen, tag teamed to get as close as 17-19. From there, PLDT’s middle blockers, Ramos and Kheeno Franco, closed the set out with a steady dose of quick and running attacks.
The Ultra Fast Hitters again held late game advantage in the second after arriving at set point, 24-22. Alfafara powered them to that lead after coming off the bench and delivering three straight attacks. Attack errors from John Paul Torres allowed Cignal to get back in the game, sending the set into deuce, where Cignal team captain, Jay Dela Cruz delivered consecutive attacks to give Cignal its only set win.
The following sets were dominated by PLDT’s offensive assault as they settled in with a lineup that featured Alfafara in the starting six as the former MVP usually came off the bench. Cignal, from that point, seemed unable to dig PLDT’s attacks, and also ran into multiple errors int the final two sets.
“‘Yun ang magiging true test sa middle namin,” Mamon quipped on their upcoming matchup against the Cagayan Valley Rising Suns, who sports two of the best middle blockers in the UAAP, Peter Torres and Rex Intal, on April 14. “Experience versus youth ang labanan namin diyan.”
PLDT (3) – Ramos 16, Torres 14, Alfafara 14, Pecaña 12, Franco 11, Galang 8, Casillan 1, Mangulabnan 1, De Guzman 1, Longavela (L)
Cignal (1) -Bonono 18, Dela Cruz 11, Christensen 10, Lansangan 9, Faytaren 9, Capate 5, Bagalay 1, Diezmo 0, Taneo 0, Ramos 0, Montero (L)