MANILA, Philippines – Having gone through the hard road en route to a third championship, the Pocari Sweat Lady Warriors are eyeing a longer reign in the Premier Volleyball League (PVL).
With the PVL’s Open Conference just a couple of weeks away, the Lady Warriors are intent on keeping their championship core intact, and are also considering adding two or more hitters to take over the spots vacated by imports Michelle Strizak and Krystal Rivers.
According to Coach Rommel Abella, however, they will approach the upcoming tournament much like they did the first three title conquests – by taking it one game at a time.
“Our mindset has been taking it one game at a time,” he explained. “Go to the eliminations, figure out what we can do, how we can advance. It’s a step by step process.”
“But for now, we’ll let the players rest first, then go back to training.”
Pocari Sweat made great use of their advantage in terms of championship experience in the Finals of the PVL Reinforced Conference, which saw them down Bali Pure in three hard-fought games to come away with their third crown in the club league.
“I told the girls that our edge over Bali Pure is our experience,” said Abella. “That will get us over the hump, because skills-wise, we’re just the same.”
Dragged to a deciding game by the Water Defenders, the Lady Warriors had to overcome a shaky start before hacking out a 20-25, 25-17, 25-17, 25-19 victory.
That they won the last three frames in comfortable fashion came as a surprise to those who expected another down-the-wire finish much like their Game 2 battle, which the Water Defenders snatched in heart stopping fashion to force the winner-take-all match.
However, Abella was able to draw superb performances from his imports as well as top local spiker Myla Pablo to neutralize the young Bali Pure team.
“It’s a good thing that they responded,” said the coach. “I also credited the win for my imports who gave their all.”
Strizak earned Best Import honors after helping lead the Lady Warriors in the eliminations all the way to the semifinals, particularly when fellow import Edina Selimovic suffered a hamstring injury, and Rivers could not immediately step in due to woes with her international transfer certificate.
Pablo also sustained a back injury but bounced back after missing a couple of games to help power the Lady Warriors to a sweep of the quarterfinals for the No. 3 spot in the semis. The former National U star went on to bag 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.
It was worth the wait for Rivers, the former Alabama standout who shook off a jittery start in Game 1 then bounced back from a Game 2 loss with a sensational 27-point production in the deciding game. Rivers scored from all over the court, while also shoring up Pocari’s net defense.
“The goal was always to win the championship,” said Rivers. “That’s why I decided to come here, knowing that they are the defending champions.”
Abella also praised Sy and Gohing for fulfilling their roles as leaders of the team, especially throughout their shaky start that saw the Lady Warriors lose their first two games.
“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.”
Abella’s highest praise, however, was reserved for Pablo.
“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.”
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