Pocari, BaliPure start PVL title series

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Back on the stage where they shone three times over, the Pocari Sweat Lady Warriors brim with confidence as they set out for their Drive for Four against the very team they toppled the last time out – the BaliPure Water Defenders – in Game One of the Premier Volleyball League Open Conference Finals at the Filoil Flying V Center in San Juan today (Saturday).

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The Lady Warriors rallied from a set down to repulse the Water Defenders in sudden death to win the PVL Reinforced Conference crown last June, the franchise’s third straight championship in as many stints in the country’s premier women’s volley league organized by Sports Vision.

Gametime is at 6:30 p.m. to be shown live on ABS CBN Sports + Action Channel 23 and via livestream on www.sports.abs-cbm/livesteram/pvl.

Air Force and Creamline, meanwhile, also open their own series for third at 4 p.m. before the league fetes the conference’s top performers in brief rites.

Joy Cases of Air Force soars from the wing for a kill against Pocari’s Desiree Dadang (16) and Gyzelle Sy (12) during their PVL Open Conference sudden death for the finals berth. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Cignal TV, on the other hand, guns for the men’s crown in Game Two of their series with Mega Builders at 1 p.m.

But while Pocari remains upbeat of its chances for a repeat over BaliPure, the Water Defenders will be coming into the finals all fired-up to nail their maiden championship in the league backed by Mikasa and Asics.

“I don’t look at it as a rematch. We’ll just go out there and play our best,” said BaliPure coach Roger Gorayeb. “But it’s a different feeling if you play in the championship so I will just rely on their aggressiveness and teamwork.”

Grethcel Soltones, Risa Sato, Aiko Urdas, Jerrili Malabanan, ace setter Jasmine Nabor and libero Lizlee Ann Pantone will be Gorayeb’s main weapons against a Pocari side led by power hitter Myla Pablo, Jeanette Panaga, Desiree Dadang, Jessey de Leon, Elaine Kasilag, new star Heather Guino-o, playmaker Gyzelle Sy and libero Melissa Gohing.

While the road to a fourth straight final proved bumpy for the Lady Warriors, they still proved up to the task, bucking the odds to get another title crack, including a scary semifinal duel with the Hair Fairy Air Force Lady Jet Spikers.

They groped for form in the elims, needed to toughen up in the quarters then rebounded from two sets down and saved two match points in their rubber match to frustrate the Lady Jet Spikers for the first finals slot.

In all their struggles, new coach Rico de Guzman had kept the faith in his wards, who have responded with one big game after the other to move two wins away from nailing another championship.

Pablo, fully recovered from an injury that slowed her down late in the elims, has been playing to her full potential the last few games while the rest have been dishing out solid support that has lined up the Lady Warriors’ for another title crack.

Panaga, Dadang, Kasilag, de Leon and Gyzelle Sy have been providing able backup to Pablo while de Guzman turned Guino-o into an instant star when the former FEU mainstay delivered clutch hits and anchored the team’s come-from-behind victory over the Jet Spikers.

“If you want to win, you also have to gamble,” said de Guzman, referring to his decision to field in Guino-o for Kasilag in the crucial stretch of Game 3. Guino-o scored 14 hits, including key attack points in the third and fifth sets.

In the finals, while both teams will try to spring a surprise or two to startle the other side’s patterns, it will still boil down to their key players at crunchtime with Pablo and Soltones tipped to lead their respective team’s title drive.

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