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)

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