Despite going through the hard way to claim its third straight championship, Pocari Sweat is looking for a longer reign in the country’s premier women’s volleyball league.
With the next Premier Volleyball League conference, the Open, just a couple of weeks away, the Lady Warriors are keeping their champion roster intact while mulling to add two or more hitters to take over the spots of Michelle Strizak and Krystal Rivers.
But like in their first three title conquests, coach Rommel Abella said they’re taking it one game at a time.
“Our mindset has been taking it one game at a time – go to the elims, figure out what we can do, how we can advance. It’s a step-by-step process,” said Abella. “But for now, we’ll let the players rest first, then go back into training.”
Flaunting their edge in experience, the Lady Warriors hurdled their toughest challenge in nailing a third crown in as many tries, downing the BaliPure Water Defenders in four in their sudden death for the Reinforced Conference of the Premier Volleyball League late Thursday.
“I told the girls that our edge over BaliPure is our experience. This will get us over the hump since skills-wise, we’re just the same,” said Abella after his wards bucked a shaky opening set stint to fashion out a convincing 20-25, 25-17, 25-17, 25-19 victory.
The result proved to be a big surprise for many which had braced for a down-to-the-wire ending that marked Game Two of the title series which BaliPure snatched in a scrambling back-and-forth finish to force a winner-take-all match.
But Abella brilliantly exploited his wards advantage and drew the best from import replacement Rivers and the rest of the Lady Warriors.
“It’s a good thing they responded and I also credited the win for my imports who gave their all,” said Abella.
Strizak helped carry the team in the elims all the way to the semis, particularly when fellow import Edina Selimovic suffered injury and Rivers couldn’t step in due to ITC woes.
Local ace Myla Pablo also sustained a back injury but came back strong after missing a couple of games to help power the Lady Warriors to a sweep of the quarters for the No. 3 spot in the semis. The former National U star went on to bag the Finals MVP honors.
With Rivers still in the sidelines, Pablo and Strizak along with Risa Sato, Desiree Dadang, Jessey de Leon, libero Melissa Gohing, Jeanette Panaga, Cai Nepomuceno, setter Gyzelle Sy, Fille Cayetano, Gayle Valdez frustrated the Alyssa Valdez-led Creamline side in the Final Four to stay on track of a third crown.
“I had to wait. I saw how hard the team was fighting, how much heart they had to win this championship. It was great to see that without playing and be part of that while playing,” said Rivers.
But it was worth the wait for the former US NCAA Division I player from Univ. of Alabama, who shrugged off a jittery start in Game One of the Finals and bounced back from a Game Two loss with a 27-hit production in the decider, hammering in thunderous spikes upfront and at the back row, while firming up the Lady Warriors’ net defense.
“It was great. The goal was to always win the championship that’s why I decided to come here knowing they are the defending champions,” said Rivers. “It was about me and the team getting settled because it’s hard for me coming into a new team and it’s hard for them to have a new player come in and so once we’ve settled down and got back in championship winning mode, it was great.”
Abella also praised Sy and Gohing for their invaluable contribution to their title feat.
“They’ve been great all throughout the conference and they hold the team together. For the number of adversities that we had faced, they stepped up and provided the leadership the team needed,” said Abella. “Going to finals, Mel has been very vocal and Gyzelle was a bit showy. Everybody, including Myla, stepped up. That’s what I want from the start of the conference, that everybody will chip in.”
He reserved the last for his prized local warrior.
“It was long time coming for Myla,” said Abella of his ward’s MVP feat. “She’s been consistent all throughout the conference. Even in our first two championships, she has been consistent with her production.”