ONE of the most underrated players in local volleyball, Aiza Maizo-Pontillas again stepped up her game to power Petron back to the throne in local women’s volleyball.
Petron overcame a gritty F2 Logistics squad, 26-24, 24-26, 24-26, 25-23, 15-11, in Game 2 of the Philippine Superliga (PSL) All-Filipino Conference best-of-three finals showdown at the Filoil Flying V Centre.
Skipper Frances Molina delivered the crucial hits in the fifth set that powered the Blaze Spikers to the thrilling victory but the brightest star was the veteran Maizo-Pontillas, who finished with 13 kills for 14 points after the cardiac battle that lasted for two hours and 27 minutes.
Petron thus won the crown of this prestigious women’s club tourney bankrolled by Rebisco, Gold’s Gym and Belo with TV5 as official broadcast partner.
Molina had 10 points while Sisi Rondina spearheaded the attack with 16 markers for Petron, which survived the furious fight back of the Cargo Movers in the deciding set through sheer hard work and determination on both ends.
The former University of Santo Tomas star capped her season-long brilliance with a Most Valuable Player (MVP) award in this tourney that also has Senoh, Mueller, Asics, Mikasa and Grand Sport as technical sponsors.
It was sweet victory for the Blaze Spikers as they finally reclaimed the crown that eluded them for a year. It was also vindication for Maizo-Pontillas who not only led her team to the championship but also earned the tournament Most Valuable Player citation.
Other winners of individual awards include: Ennajie Laure, 1st Best Outside Spiker; Ara Galang 2nd Best Outside Spiker; Majoy Baron, 1st Best Middle Blocker; Mika Reyes, 2nd Best Middle Blocker; Best Setter Rhea Dimaculangan, Best Opposite Spiker, Jaja Santiago; Best Libero Jheck Dionela.
The first time Petron won the crown was in the Grand Prix of 2014 with American sensation Alaina Bergsma and Brazilian playmaker Erika Adachi serving as reinforcements.
The Blaze Spikers again clinched the title in the All-Filipino the following year as stars Aby Marano, Dindin Manabat and Rachel Anne Daquis assembled a powerful troika to register a historic 13-0 sweep of the tournament.
Since then, it was all misfortune for Petron as Marano left to reunite with her former La Salle teammates while Daquis returned to the Philippine Army. Manabat also bolted out to join sister Jaja Santiago at Foton.
The Blaze Spikers launched a massive overhaul and lured back Maizo-Pontillas as well as April Ross Hingpit, Bang Pineda and CJ Rosario to join holdovers Carmina Aganon and Molina.
But the title remained elusive.
The Blaze Spikers failed to advance to the finals of the Invitationals and All-Filipino last year before bowing to the Tornadoes in the finals of the Grand Prix, prompting them to wage another wave of recruitment spree that led to the acquisition of Mika Reyes, Rhea Dimaculangan, Rondina, Bernadeth Pons, Remy Palma and Marivic Meneses.
And with such a star-studded roster, Petron proved that hard work and sacrifice would lead to a fluid chemistry and, eventually, back to the title.
“It’s been two years since the last time we tasted the crown,” said Molina, who is one of the two remaining players from the Petron squad that won the All-Filipino crown two years ago. “We wanted it very badly. We were hungry and determined to win.”
Both teams traded punches early on.
The Blaze Spikers were buried, 24-22, before Rondina and Pons buckled down to work and took turns in unloading bombs from the open spot to grab the lead and the set point, 25-24, in the first set.
Reyes denied Kim Dy in the ensuing play to give Petron a 1-0 lead.
But the Cargo Movers refused to surrender.
Trailing by four in the crucial stretch, 20-24, Galang connected back-to-back kills before Tin Tiamzon scored on a block for the set point, 25-24. Then, Fajardo dropped an ace to equalize the match at one-set apiece.
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