A depleted Foton Pilipinas fought hard but crumbled down the stretch, allowing Thongtin Lienvietpost Bank of Vietnam to run away with a pulsating 25-18, 19-25, 20-25, 25-12, 15-8 victory on Sunday in the 2016 AVC Asian Women’s Club Championship at the Alonte Sports Arena in Binan City, Laguna.
With import Lindsay Stalzer out with a back problem, the Tornadoes bowed in the face of a strong Vietnamese defense in the fourth set before completely fading in the fifth to suffer their first loss.
Stalzer, the Most Valuable Player of the recent Philippine Superliga Grand Prix, is being bothered by back spasms the past five days that prompted Foton Pilipinas head coach Fabio Menta to sit her out in a bid to get her healthy for the all-important quarterfinal battle against either Altay VC of Kazakhstan or NEC Red Rockets of Japan on Tuesday.
Filling the huge void in her absence was her fellow import Ariel Usher, Jovelyn Gonzaga and Jaja Santiago, who wreaked havoc in the middle in the second and third sets.
Usher delivered 15 kills, had three aces and two blocks for a total of 20 points while Gonzaga had 13 kills and three blocks for 16 points. Santiago had 13 hits after a sluggish start that saw Menta experimenting with his roster in the opening set.
“I take responsibility in the loss in the first set. I experimented a little and we paid a heavy price for it,” said Menta, who moved Gonzaga to the open spiker position and Usher and Maika Ortiz to the opposite position to somehow obstruct the attacks of the Vietnamese.
“We got soft in the fourth set. Vietnam was the more disciplined team (in the fourth set). Down 2-1, they only had one choice, which is to play hard. We knew they were coming back hard. We gave them a chance but we slowly collapsed.”
With the Tornadoes one set away from pulling off an upset, the Vietnamese tightened up their defense while skipper Minh Do Thi uncorked powerful smashes from the open position.
Minh, the national team player who finished with 22 kills, five blocks and a pair of aces, took charge in the fourth as the Vietnamese surged ahead, 16-7, entering the second technical timeout.
It was all-Vietnam from there as its blocking and floor defense were too tight, too solid to penetrate.
“My team handled the pressure well,” said Vietnam coach Pham Van Long, whose wards tallied more blocks, 15-9, and more attacks, 58-53, that the home squad.