Season 91 Preview: Perpetual, JRU, Arellano, San Beda (Fantastic Four)

SM Megamall
June 21, 2015
Season 91 Preview: Perpetual, JRU, Arellano, San Beda (Fantastic Four)

(Final part)
I always save the best for last.
And this year is no exception.
So it’s time to talk about the top four best teams from last year. Interestingly, these could be the same four that could end up legitimately battling for the championship trophy by October. So read on:

PERPETUAL HELP
If there’s a team that us in the media call the team of the people, it’s Perpetual Help. Maybe because of we, just like everyone of us Filipinos, love underdogs. Maybe we just like veteran coach Aric del Rosario. Plain and simple.
Why it would not win?
Hard to replace Juneric Baloria, Harold Arboleda and Justin Alano, who comprised about 70 percent of Perpetual Help’s statistics last year. If the Altas are going to lose on its title chance this season, it’s because they utterly lack a consistent three-point threat in Baloria and Arboleda. It didn’t help that Joel Jolangcob, another outside sniper, also graduated.
Why it would win?

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Three words: Prince. Bright. Thompson. No it’s not the name of one person, but three. I’m referring to Cameroonians Prince Eze and Bright Akhuetie and reigning NCAA MVP Earl Scottie Thompson. If you haven’t seen Akhuetie, you’re missing out on life. He idolizes LeBron James, the second best player in the planet today. And, I’m not exaggerating, is trying to play like one with success. Like KIng James, he’s 6-8 with the exact same built and athleticism. I’ve watched him play in the pre-season and, boy, he’s a monster. One example was in a game against St. Benilde, he unleashed 35 points and 20 rebounds. In a shock win over UAAP champion National U, he poured in 21 points in 21 minutes. Eze is taller at 6-11. Can block, rebound and shoot. In fact, he’s comfortable playing small forward and shoot jumpers. And, he doesn’t mind playing second fiddle to Akhuetie. And we haven’t even talked about Machine Gun Thompson, who is a triple-double machine as we speak. Oh, there is also Aric del Rosario, who is ripe for a championship in the NCAA after steering Santo Tomas to a four-peat feat in the early 90s. Watch out also for Gab Dagangon, who I think will have a breakout season.
Madam Auring: If San Beda drops dead right now, it’s Perpetual Help which is going to win it all.

JOSE RIZAL
I’m an open book. I’ve always said my favorite hero is Jose Rizal. I live in Rizal. I love to read Rizal books. So anything Rizal, I love. Including what Jose Rizal, the school, not the hero, represents. And I’m happy with the direction the Bombers are taking in terms of their basketball program.
Why it would not win?
Like Perpetual, Jose Rizal lacked a consistent outside threat and a go-to-guy. They brought back John Paulo Pontejos after a one-year hiatus to address that particular issue. But he’s still untested until he proves me wrong.
Why it would win?
Aside from Pontejos, JRU has pulled off a coup by securing reigning NCAA high school MVP Darius Estrella, who decided to stay put and not be blinded by the glitter of the other league at the expense of playing time. In the Bombers, Pontejos and Estrella will vastly improved Trey Teodoro, Dave Sanchez and Jordan dela Paz in forming one of the most formidable backcourts in college basketball today. The Kalentong-based dribblers have also added Abdouladif Aylagningni Poutouchi to team up with Abdul Razak Abdul Wahab, another African. If you don’t the two, just think of Dikembe Mutombo teaming up with Nerlens Noel. That’s how formidable the Bombers’ frontcourt.

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Madam Auring: If Jose Rizal doesn’t win this year, they will be shot in Bagumbayan.

ARELLANO UNIVERSITY
Arellano U almost pulled off a Cinderella story last year after making the finals only to lose to San Beda. This year, there’s a chance, though smaller, that the Chiefs could do the same this year. And maybe, just maybe, they could pull off a caper.
Why it would not win?
Losing John PInto, Prince Caperal, Keith Agovida and Levi Hernandez was a big blow to the Chiefs. They will be hardput to fill the vacuum of their departure. Coach Jerry Codinera would also need to find a way to improve their league-worst defense last year and start believing the notion that “offense wins games, but defense wins championships.”
Why it would win?

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Jio Jalalon should have a career-high season. Like Thompson, he could churn out triple-doubles effortlessly. He will be the spark-plug of Arellano’s league-best offense. American Dioncee Holts should also explode considering that Codinera is planning to unleash team captain Nichole Bangga, Julius Cadavis and Ranimark Tano as the team’s center by committee. They might slow their game a bit to minimize turnovers which they were a little prone a year ago. Also, Codinera has started to put premium on defense a bit and try to live up on his personal mantra when he was still a player. His being “The Defense Minister” will be meaningless if his team will not play like one.
Madam Auring: Jalalon Ranger for MVP?

SAN BEDA
The Lions are going all out to win a historic sixth straight title this year and it looks like they wouldn’t let anyone stop them.
Why it would not win?
Multi-titled high school coach and former national team mentor Jamike Jarin has taken over the coaching reins from Boyet Fernandez. Jarin is talented in steering Ateneo to countless UAAP juniors crown and was the brains behind Batang Gilas’ first ever FIBA World trip. But as much as I’m a fan of Jarin, college basketball is an entirely different animal than high school or FIBA basketball. He steered San Beda to the Filoil title just a week ago. That’s a good start. But again, the NCAA is an entirely different plane from the Filoil. The pressure is on him if he could coach the Lions to a six-peat feat.

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Why it would win?
Despite the African deluge, Ola Adeogun remains the best player in the NCAA today. Baser Amer has also decided to play one last year before he turns pro. Art dela Cruz should also have a great year. San Beda owns the deepest bench in the league today. Their championship experience also counts. The fear they put in the hearts of the opposition also matters.
Madam Auring: Can we bring out the trophy now?
Sportsmaryosep’s prognosis: Pardon me if you got tired hearing our resident seer Madam Auring. Worry not, I’m already contemplating on firing her anytime now, if I hadn’t already. But seriously, I think Letran will have a good year barring any major injuries. I see Mapua as a darkhorse. San Sebastian and Lyceum could surprise the big guns. But I think, San Beda remains the team to beat and Arellano, JRU and Perpetual Help as the favorites to make the Final Four. I’m a little intrigued by the what’s on the table of Perpetual and Jose Rizal. I mean, they’re both scarily strong and I wouldn’t surprise if they end up shocking San Beda and snatching the title. And I really mean that because the Bombers and Altas are super strong on paper. But hey, experience thought me that strength is not measure by reputation but by playing and living up to it. So maybe it will still be San Beda but I wouldn’t blame you if you put your money or bet your house for Jose Rizal and Perpetual.

Follow me on Twitter: @JoeySVillar
(Photos courtesy of rivals.ph, spin.ph and Dennis Abrina of Perpetual Help)

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Season 91 Preview: Lyceum, Letran, St. Benilde (Middle of Nowhere)

Muralla, Intramuros
June 21, 2015
Season 91 Preview: Lyceum, Letran, St. Benilde (Middle of Nowhere)

(Second of a three-part series)
I would like to start this blog by greeting all the fathers out there a Happy Father’s Day. This is our day. Let’s also thank our fathers because without them, you wouldn’t be reading this and I wouldn’t be writing this. Let’s also show gratitude to the father of our fathers and their fathers before them. And so and so forth. This is our special day. So let’s enjoy it.
I did.
In fact, I spent it with my wife, who gave me my first ever Father’s Day gift–a beautiful paper photo album of my London sojourn eight years ago. It was special because it transported me back to the time I covered Brandon Vera against Fabricio Werdum and Matt Hughes against Thiago Alvez in the Ultimate Fighting Championship at the O2 Arena. Loving the nostalgia. Those were the days, indeed. Also spent it with my ultra-energetic son, whom I chased all day.
And then time for blogging.
So where were we? Oh, NCAA. After tackling Mapua, EAC and San Sebastian in the first installment, let’s do the next three. Starting with….

LYCEUM
Lyceum should come into Season 91 a little inspired after the NCAA made it and EAC a regular member. Whether it will translate into basketball success, it remains to be seen.
Why it would not win?
I always liked seeing Lyceum play with their tough, never-say-die, throw-it-all-the-window style. They will win some games, but most of the time they will lose some. It seems there is always something missing. This year, the feeling is the same. Something is lacking in this team that is hard to pinpoint. Solid backcourt? Perhaps. Consistent scoring? Probably. Cohesion? Maybe.
Why it would win?
Topex Robinson has taken over Lyceum’s long-time coach Bonnie Tan. And we all know Robinson is a master of motivating his players. If there’s one thing Lyceum isn’t going to lack, it’s confidence. And it’s because of Robinson. The Pirates will also be loaded up front. They’ve got bullstrong Joseph Gabayni, a slam-dunking Jebb Bulawan and a banger in Seraj Elmejrab. High-scoring Guy Mbida, yes Guy, should be another conerstone of this team after a solid first season a year ago. If there are teams I think would be exciting this year, the Pirates are one of them.

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Madam Auring: Pirates of the Carribean? I love that movie. Can’t say the same about Lyceum.

LETRAN
Who is Aldin Ayo? For those who don’t know him, he happens to be the new coach of the Letran Knights, replacing Caloy Garcia, who steered the Knights to a finals stint two years ago only to fail to make it to even make it to the Final the next season.

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Why it would not win?
Who is Aldin Ayo? He’s practically a newbie in terms of coaching. His coaching experience goes as far as being part of KIA’s coaching staff in the PBA and the Jr. NBA, which is NBA’s program for the youth. Letran has gone from Binky Favis (titled) to Louie Alas (multi-titled) to Garcia (experienced) to Ayo (rookie) in the last few decades. Maybe the Knights are trying to rebuild and literally start from scratch. So let’s give Ayo a chance and the benefit of the doubt.
Why it would win?
Who is Aldin Ayo? As an added info, Ayo is a former teammate of Kerby Raymundo and Chris Calaguio when Letran lorded it over the field in the late 90s. If there’s anything going right for the Knights in tapping Ayo, at least they will not be pressured to win with a brand new coach. So don’t blame Ayo if they lose. Because Letran isn’t going to be a pushover come Season 91. If you’re not scared of the backcourt of Mark Cruz, Kevin Racal and Rey Nambatac, I don’t know what will. Also, Rey Publico and Kier Quinto are both seasoned by last year’s experience. McJour Luib is also back to give the backcourt an added punch defensively. Racal should be back healthy after a season-ending injury a year ago. If you’re scared of Racal, I would also be thinking of Cruz and Nambatac too. Men, I’m excited already.

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Madam Auring: Who’s Aldin Ayo again?
ST. BENILDE
Unless you’re in a cave, all of you have probably seen Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit. Yes? Yes. I’ve mentioned about the movie because honestly, the Blazers reminded me of hobbits and the NCAA Middle Earth. Other teams, they’ve grown like giants with the deluge of Sauron or Smaug-like African imports.
Why it would not win?
Hobbits. While others went taller, St. Benilde went smaller. They made do last year despite the lack of ceiling with speed, outside shooting and perseverance. Unfortunately, they lost Mark Romero and Juan Paolo Taha, who happened to comprise two-thirds of the Blazers’ total production last year. So it will be to even match the school’s impressive fifth-best 11-7 (win-loss) reacord a season ago.
Why it would win?

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Talented Jonathan Grey, part of St. Benilde’s three-man battering ram consisting also of Romero and Taha last year, is back. What they lack up front, the Blazers make it up with quickness and stubborn defense, which I think will keep the team afloat for a while. It counts that Jeffrey Ongteco, Pons Saavedra and reigning NCAA three-point king Travis Jonson are present.
Madam Auring: Did Hobbits survive all six installments and live to tell their tales?
To be continued….

Follow me on Twitter: @JoeySVillar

(Photos courtesy of spin.ph, Manila Bulletin and Bicol Today)

Season 91 Preview: Mapua, EAC, San Sebastian (Mercury Rising)

Mapua Campus
June 20, 2015
Season 91 Preview: Mapua, EAC, San Sebastian (Mercury Rising)

(First of a three-part series)
You probably had your basektball fix in the NBA Finals won by the Golden State Warriors against the clingy Cleveland Cavaliers. Clingy because they clung to LeBorn James too much that they were carried by King James like grocery bags.
I did.

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But basketball never stops because in a week, we’ll have another one via the 91st NCAA season slated on June 27 at the MOA Arena in Pasay City. As been Sportsmaryosep’s annual tradition, we’re back previewing it. And as always, our resident seer cum harbinger of doom cum palm reader Madam Auring will assist us. The process is I will say why a team will win or lose and then Madam Auring will do the forecasting. Any questions? None? None. So let’s proceed.
And we’ll start with last year’s doormat:

MAPUA
I’m sure the cliche “Nowhere to go but up” applies to the Cardinals. Why the hell not when Mapua, which happens to be this year’s gracious host, finished dead last in the past two seasons. Unless, of course, NCAA suddenly invents a place worse than the bottom. But kidding aside, Mapua’s team this year is nothing to joke about.
Why it would not win?
I’m a big fan of Atoy Co as a player. As a coach, I’m still somewhere in the crossroads after a pair of disappointing bottom fininishes. This year, the Fortune Cookie will have a lot to prove. And I’m rooting for his success. I’m not laying blame on coach Atoy on the failures of the last two seasons. But another disappointing performance this year would cement that belief. So this season is actually make or break personally for coach Atoy.

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Why it would win?
Josan Nimes, Andretti Stevens and Mark Brana are back. Dikembe Mutombo is also playing for Cardinals. Well, it’s not actually the finger-wagging, not-in-my-house-blocking Mutombo, but a player who plays like one. His name is Allwell Oraeme. He breathes defense, eats defense and drinks defense. Like all the time. With Oraeme, Mapua takes care of the Ola Adeogun problem. So it’s all well for Mapua, right? Right. As for Nimes, he brings a shameless scorer that the team lacks the past two seasons. Nimes, if he wants to, has the ability to score in bunch in a spurt and could give the Cardinals somewhere around 15 to 20 points a game. Stevens, for his part, is defensive dynamo in the backcourt with some three-point shooting on the side. For those who know Brana, he will provide Oraeme another muscle inside and has this medium range jump shots to add to his arsenal. And I haven’t even mentioned CJ Isit, who has learned from last year’s tumultuous season and should be way better this year.
Madam Auring: Finally, Atoy Co is not the best player in Mapua anymore. So I see the Cardinals contentending for a Final Four slot. Seriously.

EAC
If there are two words that encapsulated EAC’s campaign last year, it’s John Tayongtong. For those who forgot, it was Tayongtong’s punch on Isit that triggered an ugly brawl that reached as far as Bleacher Report. In fairness to Tayongtong, he and Isit have already made amends and shook hands. So all is forgiven.

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Why it would not win?
Gerry Esplana is gone. Andy de Guzman comes in as his replacement. But coaching isn’t actually the problem. Manpower is. Cameroonian Happi Noubi has also left. The only familiar names in the team’s current fold is the tough hombre named Sydney Onwubere and the three-point-hoisting Jerald Serrano.
Why it would win?
Element of surprise. Im sure someone among the 15 players of EAC should emerge a star. Luck too. Other than that, it’s free for all. Oops. No free-for-all please.
Madam Auring: Hmmm. I’ll just borrow a famous line from the movie Hunger Games. May the odds be on your favor.

SAN SEBASTIAN
Rodney Santos is one of the best players San Sebastian has produced in the past. By bringing him in as Topex Robinson’s replacement, San Sebastian hopes to change its floudering fortunes.
Why it would not win?
Gone were the days when the Stags could outrun their foes in just one flick of a finger with Jovit dela Cruz, Jaymar Perez and Jon Kervin Ortuoste fuelling the machine. But dela Cruz and Perez have gone now, leaving Ortuoste to carry most of the load along with bruiser Bradwyn Guinto. For unknown reasons, Ranzelle Yong isn’t playing this year. Yong was the most promising rookies from last year’s crop and his production will be heavily missed.

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Why it would win?
Thankfully, Guinto and Ortuoste stayed. Which means the Stags is expected to feed on the two, perhaps try to pick-and-roll their way to a bunch of points like John Stockton and Karl Malone. Their other reclamation projects–Michael Calisaan, Jerick Fabian and Ryan Castelo–could also use this year to blossom. So those are another pluses. And San Sebastian has a lot of basektball pride in it that I’m sure that alone would keep the team breathing and humming.
Madam Auring: I’m sure the coach then named “The Slasher” would like his team to be like him. Slash, slash and slash. If not, they could end up like splash, splash, splash.
To be continued…

Follow me on Twitter: @JoeySVillar
(Photos courtesy of spin.ph, philstar.com and tempo’s Tony Pionilla)

Here’s the NCAA Season 91 schedule:

Basketball Schedule 1 (1)Basketball Schedule 2 (2)

The Science of Backing Up Greatness

Rizal Memorial Coliseum
June 18, 2015
The Science of Backing Up Greatness

LeBron James claimed he’s the best player in the planet.
The problem? He couldn’t win another championship with his claim as the Golden State Warriors shut his mouth with a six-game NBA Finals series win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Yes, he averaged with triple-double numbers in that series. Not undermining it, but you can put Russell Westbrook in there and he can produce monster numbers the same way.

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So don’t give me that garbage that numbers don’t lie. Championship trophies don’t.

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I have nothing about James being the greatest. Go ahead claim it.
But please, have the balls to back it up.

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I will name some legends who did.
Michael Jordan knows he’s the greatest but he didn’t claim it. He just showed the world why–by going six of six in the finals and probably eight straight if he hadn’t semi-retired and went with his fling with baseball in the middle of those three-peat feats.

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Kobe tried to emulate His Airness and he backed it up with five championships out of seven attempts.

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Tim Duncan never bragged but he won five championships in six trips in the Finals.
Bill Russell? He’s an enigma and an introvert. Never talked that much and won 11 titles.
Larry Bird has three and could have won more if not for Magic Johnson.
Magic? He has five and could have won more if not for Bird.
Jerry West has one title in eight finals appearance as he was unfortunate enough to live in the Bill Russell era. Never boasted of his greatness.
LeBron James lost four of his six finals stints and claims to be the best player in the planet today. He tried to be like Magic last year with the Spurs and got humiliated. He tried to be like Kobe and Jordan against the Warriors this season and we all know what happened? Heck, he couldn’t even play with cramps in Game One of the Spurs series last season, unlike Jordan and Kobe who had worst injuries and still played in the most crucial situations.

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James will have his place up there with the greatest of greats someday. That is as certain as the sun will set tonight and rise tomorrow. But for now, his legacy is defined by how he couldn’t walk the talk and back his claim. Because being great is not just all about how many points you scored, how many rebounds you grabbed, how many assists you set or by any numbers. It is all about inspiring your teammates and carrying your team.
On your back.
Not with your mouth.
Follow me on Twitter: @JoeySVillar

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It’s Raining Men

The Arena, San Juan
June 3, 2015
It’s Raining Men

Volleyball is not just for women.
Men can play too.
Actually, everyone can, regardless of gender.
So when the Spikers’ Turf was formed early this year, a lot of people, particularly us males, rejoiced.
How could we not? Finally, after years of watching from the sidelines our female players duke it out for volleyball supremacy in the pioneering Shakey’s V-League and Philippine Superliga, we have a tournament where we can watch the country’s best and brightest show their wares. Not just the ladies.
I mean, the Spikers’ Turf is a breath of fresh air for Philippine men’s volleyball.

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Imagine, players like Ateneo’s Marck Espejo and Rex Intal, National University’s Peter Torres, Champion Infinity’s Rocky Honrade, Emilio Aguinaldo’s Howard Mojica, Santo Tomas’ Mark Gil Alfafara, St. Benilde’s Johnvic de Guzman and more. Even a familiar figure in the not-so-old Air Force man Dante Alinsunurin, who is once the most feared player back in the not-so-old days, is there.
So go figure.

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When PLDT Home Ultera beat Cagayan Valley in a gripping four-set victory to crown itself the first ever Spikers Turf champion last Tuesday, it will not take a genius to figure out that the Ultra Fast Spikers are not the only winners.
It’s also our male players. Philippine men’s volleyball in general.
So to Spikers’ Turf, thank you from the bottom of our volleyball-thirsty hearts.

Follow me on Twitter: @JoeySVillar

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(Photos courtesy of Tiebreaker Times)

Two Champions

The Arena, San Juan
June 1, 2015
Two Champions

PLDT Home Ultera won its first ever Shakey’s V-League title by edging Army in a thrilling three-game series capped by a pulsating 25-22, 18-25, 24-26, 28-26, 15-13 victory last Sunday.

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On one side, you could see PLDT Home Ultera and its throngs of fans breaking into frantic celebration while on the other you could glimpse at Army, the dethroned champion, and its pocket of loud supporters in utter dismay and anguish at the thought of coming so close in retaining the title it won last year only to fail in the end.

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There were a lot of heroes.
Alyssa Valdez emerged as the biggest one. She averaged 27.5 hits in the last two games when PLDT turned things around. She had 29 in the deciding game despite a rocksolid net defense centered on her behalf.
Jaja Santiago starred in the fifth set of Game Three. Yes fifth set of Game Three. A no man’s land where there is no room for the weak-hearted. Her heroics was highlighted with that two-handed, title-clinching tap. Deservingly, she was named the Finals MVP.

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Gretchel Soltones had 17 in the decider after scoring just a combined 12 in Games One and Two.
Grizzled veterans Sue Roces and Ruby de Leon served as the glue that kept the whole team together.

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You could make a case for libero Den Den Lazaro for her quiet but clutch performance in the game that mattered most.
Same with Lizlee Ann Pantone and her gut-wrenching defense.
Roger Gorayeb, bless his heart, was a genius. Any argument against this should refer to the result. Fourth championship in the V-League.

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But heroes aren’t exclusive for the winners. In the case of Army, the losing finalist, it has produced some.
If there’s a Finals MVP for the non-winning team, it has got to be Jovelyn Gonzaga. Strong-willed even to the end. She averaged almost 16 hits in the series. If there are points for intangibles, she would have scored more.
I will slap my self silly if I forget about Tina Salak. She has got to be the most intelligent volleyball player that ever lived. And she’s 39 years old and going strong. Next to Gonzaga, she has carried her team the whole series. She is a joy to watch. It will be sad to see her retire.
Mary Jean Balse is Army’s steadying force. The many-time former MVP is still an intimidating force thanks to a dose of her crisp kills and menacing blocks. In Game Three, she shone the brightest in defense where she accounted for six of her team’s series-high 19 blocks. If their’s a Sultan of Swat in this series, Balse is it.

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Dindin Santiago-Manabat. She blew and hot and cold in the series. Without her, Army wouldn’t have gotten this far.
Rachel Ann Daquis, the pretty-faced assassin, finally showed up in Game Three after forgettable efforts in the first two games. Imagine if she had played as better in Game Two?

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In the end, some of us can see winners and losers. That is sports. You win some, you lose some. But after we got a taste of a classic served to us by both PLDT and Army, I see two.
PLDT came home as champions.
Army too.

Follow me on Twitter: @JoeySVillar

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(Photos courtesy of Sportsmaryosep, Roger Gorayeb and Jun Mendoza of The Philippine STAR)