PLDT, Army clash in V-League Game One

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Unbeaten PLDT Home Ultera goes for the first of two wins to cap a record campaign but Army won’t go down without fighting for the crown it won in emphatic fashion last year, guaranteeing a slam-bang action in today’s opener of their best-of-three series for the Shakey’s V-League Season 12 Open Conference crown at The Arena in San Juan.

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Twice did the Ultra Fast Hitters beat the Lady Troopers this conference – a resounding straight-set romp in the elims and a come-from-behind five-set victory in the semis last Sunday. But PLDT’s other five-set escape over ousted Meralco last Tuesday has somehow lessened the team’s aura of invincibility.

For one, the Lady Troopers have the tools and materials to match the Ultra Fast Hitters’ vaunted firepower. What they want to cash in on at this stage of their chase for the coveted crown in the season-opening conference of the league sponsored by Shakey’s is their experience.

With open spikers Rachel Ann Daquis, last year’s MVP Jovelyn Gonzaga and the power-hitting Dindin Manabat in charge at the net, Mary Jean Balse and Nerissa Bautista, both former MVPs and veterans of many Shakey’s V-League wars, must provide stability needed in down-to-the-wire finishes the way it went the last time out.

But more is needed to stop the vaunted PLDT offense.

In a rare stint, Alyssa Valdez came off the bench to fire 23 hits and help lift the embattled Ultra Fast Hitters past the Power Spikers, who missed becoming the first team to deal the fancied team its first defeat with a late meltdown.

Valdez, the face of women’s volleyball in the sport’s return into the mainstream, can’t wait to start again for PLDT with help to come from Jaja Santiago, Gretchel Soltones and former MVP Suzanne Roces along with setter Rubie de Leon as they try to move closer to a dream title quest.

PLDT coach Roger Gorayeb has not only whip up Valdez to become what she is now but has also turned Santiago from an intimidating force on the net against the other side’s hitters to one gem of an offensive threat the last few games, norming double-digit output in the semis.

But expect the Lady Troopers to come out smoking too in their 4 p.m. showdown with De Guzman also raring to finally end PLDT’s streak and fuel their own drive for the championship in the league where it all started.

With Soltones completing PLDT’s fearsome frontline, the Lady Troopers will have to devise plays on how to neutralize the triple threat although De Guzman has also in his arsenal a slew of power hitters and veteran, gritty stoppers.

While attacks and kills will decide the series, reception and floor defense will also play a big role in each side’s title quest, including their service that has stymied many a team’s bid in title playoffs.

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