• Smart-Maynilad seeks payback, Final 4 vs. Cagayan

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    Smart-Maynilad sets out for a payback against unbeaten Cagayan Province with a souped-up roster, gunning for no less than a win and a berth in the Final Four of the Shakey’s V-League Season 10 Open Conference at The Arena in San Juan City today.

    The Net Spikers dropped a tight three-setter to the Rising Suns in the eliminations, 23-25, 24-26, 20-25, with just eight players. But with Ateneo star Alyssa Valdez and Thai ace Lithawat Kesinee now with the team, Smart-Maynilad appears to have the firepower to stop the streaking Rising Suns.

    That makes the 4 p.m. showdown an explosive one with Cagayan also out to preserve its streak and zero in on the top seeding in the semis of the season-ending conference of the league sponsored by Shakey’s.

    Second-running Army and Air Force collide in the other match at 2 p.m. with the former shooting for its ninth win against a loss and the latter (5-4) seeking to fortify its hold of the fourth spot with Meralco and PNP behind at 3-6 and 2-7, respectively.

    Both Smart-Maynilad and Cagayan Province are coming off tough victories last Friday with the Net Spikers needing four sets to topple the Philippine National Police Patrolers and Rising Suns scrambling to survive the Meralco Power Spikers in five on Friday.

    Focus will be on Valdez and Kesinee, who have provided Smart-Maynilad the needed spunk especially in the single round quarterfinal stage. With them on board, the Net Spikers swept their first two games in the quarters for a 6-3 card, moving just a win away from formalizing their stint in the Final Four of the tournament backed by Mikasa and Accel and organized by Sports Vision.

    Valdez, in particular, has normed a whopping 27-hit game in her first three outings, the last against PNP despite coming in late with Gretchel Soltones due to studies. But they are sure to come in on time against Cagayan, making it truly a match to watch.

    Unlike Smart-Maynilad, Cagayan boasts of not just one but two Thai reinforcements with Kannika Thipachot complementing well with Angeli Tabaquero and AIza Maizo upfront and Phomia Soraya providing the set plays.

    Cagayan coach Nestor Pamilar actually has a deeper bench that also includes Adamson stalwarts Shiela Pineda and Pau Soriano with support from Analyn Joy Benito, Wenneth Eulalio and libero Angelique Dionela.

    Smart mentor Roger Gorayeb, meanwhile, has two of the league’s top setters in Rubie de Leon and Jem Ferrer with former MVP Sue Roces, Maru Banaticla and Charo Soriano expected to provide poise and experience.

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