MANILA, Philippines — Pocari Sweat had only one marching order for its imports in the Premier Volleyball League Reinforced Conference — help the Lady Warriors win the championship.
Consider it mission accomplished for Michelle Strizak and Krystal Rivers, who both overcame tremendous challenges but still wound up leading the Lady Warriors past the Bali Pure Water Defenders in a highly entertaining three-game finals series.
Strizak, who along with Edina Selimovic missed the first round of the tournament due to issues with their international transfer certificate (ITC), wound up playing as a lone import for eight games when Selimovic went down with an injury.
Meanwhile, Rivers, hired to replace Selimovic, had to agonize in the sidelines for two weeks, with her ITC also in limbo, while Pocari trudged through the quarterfinals and in a difficult semifinals series against the Power Smashers.
On Thursday night at FilOil Flying V Centre, however, both American players were all smiles in the wake of their four-set victory over Bali Pure in the do-or-die Game 3 of the finals. Strizak scored 10 points, including the clutch hit that brought them to match point, while Rivers torched the Water Defenders for 27 points including 22 kills.
“It’s been amazing,” said Strizak, who wound up as the tournament’s Best Import. “We’ve been through so much. This team has so many injuries, ups and downs, imports not playing. I’m just so proud, because we never lost our fighting spirit.”
“We got better every single game, and our last match is amazing,” she added.
For Rivers, who played only in the finals but still lived up to her billing as a former Division 1 standout, the drama over her ITC and the long wait before finally getting to suit up were all worth it.
“This was my first professional experience, and I only got to play in the championship round, and I won a title,” said the former Alabama star. “So, hey, what a way to start my professional career.”
Both players relished the feeling of having done exactly what they set out to do.
“That was always the goal, you know?” Rivers said of winning the championship. “When I decided to come here, I knew Pocari had a great chance of winning the championship.”
“I knew they were the defending champions, that’s why I decided to come here and that was always the goal. It was amazing to actually win it, be a part of it, and going home with the title,” she added.
Strizak said: “When I got hired, they said, ‘We want to be champions again, and we want you to be a part of it.’ It’s part of my job to help this team be champions no matter what.”
With the gold in the bag, Strizak and Rivers are now looking forward to new opportunities.
Strizak said she intends to go back to the US for a couple of months, before playing in Switzerland. Meanwhile, Rivers will stay in the country for a few more weeks before returning to the US.
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