Double Five-Setter: Army, Cagayan Valley go the distance to nip foes in Shakey’s V-League Open q’finals


Cagayan Valley—8-0*

Philippine Army—7-1*


Philippine Air Force—3-5


Philippine National Police—0-7

*Assured of semifinals berth

QUARTERFINAL GAMES ON TUESDAY (September 29 at The Arena, San Juan City)

2:00PM Cagayan Valley vs. PNP

4:00PM Air Force vs. Meralco

THE ARENA, San Juan City—Before a near capacity crowd of rabid supporters, the Philippine Army Lady Troopers and the Cagayan Valley Rising Suns posted similar five-set victories to solidify its footholds on the semifinals in the quarterfinal round of the ongoing Shakey’s V-League Open Conference here.

Fans of Smart-Maynilad's Alyssa Valdez were among the thousands in attendance (Photo: Arnold Z. Cruz)

It was championship atmosphere as the top four teams in contention gave the fans its money’s worth in the first double “full route” showing in the league since 2012 and when the smoke cleared, more separation was created by the victors from the rest of the field; adding more pressure as the quarterfinals enters its final stages. Army needed a vintage performance from inaugural league MVP Mary Jean Balse to outlast the struggling Philippine Air Force 25-22, 25-21, 21-25, 19-25, 15-13—despite a career-high (and new individual conference scoring record) 29 markers from MVP candidate Judy Caballejo. It was a duel for the ages between two generations of stalwarts from the University of Santo Tomas (UST) and it kept everyone on the edge of their seats.

Army's Rachel Anne Daquis (#13) digs one up against Air Force (Photo: Arnold Z. Cruz)

After taking the first two sets in almost convincing fashion, the Lady Troopers began lapsing into errors forced upon them by the aggression of Caballejo and converted utility-spiker Wendy Semana. Army’s own MVP candidate Jovelyn Gonzaga and former Finals MVP Rachel Anne Daquis began helping Balse’s efforts, but the momentum had clearly shifted to the side of the Airwomen as Army went on to lose the next two sets—in similarly convincing fashion.

ALSO READ: Kobe Paras wins slam dunk contest in FIBA 3x3 U18 World Championships

The fifth set saw Lady Troopers’ setter Tina Salak begin taking the reins from Balse and Gonzaga with a series of block points and drop balls, while Caballejo got ample support from center Maika Ortiz and journeywoman Joy Cases. Army took a comfortable 9-4 advantage but the Airwomen weren’t done as they inched closer and closer. Cases tied the score at 13-13 with a cross-court bomb, but a Balse attack and a free ball error from Semana gave the Lady Troopers its fifth consecutive win of the tournament and dropped Air Force to its third straight loss in the quarterfinals after racking up five successive triumphs themselves prior to this round.

the career-high 29 points from Judy Caballejo (R) was not enough for Air Force (Photo: Arnold Z. Cruz)

It was a major downer for Air Force as it is now in danger of being dislodged from its present fourth place standing in the leaderboard by slumping but improving Meralco and PNP. The Power Spikers will be the first to test the Airwomen on Tuesday (October 1st). Army takes a much needed breather before locking horns with the last team that took them to five sets prior to this tiff, the Smart-Maynilad Net Spikers, on Friday (October 4th).

Balse unloaded a season-high 24 points as Gozaga chipped-in seventeen while Daquis had fourteen in the win. Caballejo’s 29 points was backstopped by fifteen from Semana and twelve points apiece from Cases and Ortiz.

Tigress vs. Tigress: Army's Ging Balse drops one over Rhea Dimaculangan (Photo: Arnold Z. Cruz)

Audience members were already drained and hoarse by the time the two protagonists in the second match made their way to the court, but most of those who arrived at the venue were rooting for either the Net Spikers of the Rising Suns, so they had to dig deep to become factors for their respective squads.

ALSO READ: NU's Parks unsure of coming back next season

And dig deep they did as the match trended on social media networks for the duration of the almost two hours it took to complete the clash.

An animated fan energizes the crowd during the Smart-Maynilad vs. Cagayan Valley match (Photo: Arnold Z. Cruz)

Smart-Maynilad had additional help on the bench in the form of Ateneo’s Thai training consultant Anusorn Bundit, who volunteered to help the “assistant-less” Roger Gorayeb while he is still here in the country. The Net Spikers indeed needed all the help it could get going up against the only undefeated squad in the tournament.

Thai consultant Anusorn Bundit addresses Smart-Maynilad's Gretchel Soltones (Photo: Arnold Z. Cruz)

Immediately it was viewed as a match-up of two potential national teammates as present Power Pinays skipper Angge Tabaquero of Cagayan Valley went head-to-head against the prolific Alyssa Valdez of Smart-Maynilad. However, it also became a contest between two of the best Thai imports of the conference as Rising Suns’ scoring leader Kannika Thipachot tried to outdo the Net Spikers’ veteran reinforcement—and former league MVP—Pheenok Kesinee. There was also the defensive battle at the net between the Cagayan Valley “wall” of Pau Soriano and Aiza Maizo-Pontillas versus the Kesinee-Suzanne Roces “roadblock”.

The exchange of explosions continued at a torrid pace throughout the match, with Cagayan Valley taking the first and third sets and the Net Spikers claiming the second and fourth sets.

ALSO READ: UAAP Finals Preview: A perfect match

In a game of “can you top this?”, Valdez and Thipachot traded a variety of wicked attacks and wily drop shots while Kesinee and Maizo-Pontillas pounded each other to near submission. Tabaquero found a game adversary in youngster Gretchel Soltones from San Sebastian as the 19-year-old matched the veteran open-spiker from UST virtually shot for shot.

Smart-Maynilad's Maru Banaticla runs into a Cagayan Valley double-block (Photo: Arnold Z. Cruz)

Opposing liberos in Smart-Maynilad’s Melissa Gohing and Rising Suns’ Jheck Dionela also did masterful jobs at keeping plays alive, but the additional floor defense provided by Valdez and Soltones helped Net Spikers setter Rubie de Leon orchestrate more fluidly. On the other side, Thai setter Phomla Soraya did not need good reception and digs—although there were also many provided by her teammates—to conduct her playmaking chores to the hilt. Both setters almost cancelled each other out with de Leon—the reigning Finals MVP—executing on 35 excellent sets against Soraya’s 33.

Plainly put, it was the match of the year.

The fifth set was culmination of the greatness displayed both squads as it became apparent that the team that wanted it more was going to come away with the crucial win. Center Wenneth Eulalio scored three of her eleven markers in the final set as Cagayan Valley threatened to snatch the match 12-9 off a service from reserve Sheila Pineda. However, a series of errors by the Rising Suns allowed Smart-Maynilad to creep back and tie the count at 13-13. Maizo-Pontillas gave Cagayan Valley match point with a running hit and Tabaquero cashed in on an unlikely free ball from Kesinee on a miscommunication moment with de Leon for the game-winner.

Cagayan Valley's Angge Tabaquero delivers the game-winner against Smart-Maynilad (Photo: Pinoy Spikers)

The final point was contested by Gorayeb as he claimed Tabaquero’s spike went long, but it was not overruled and a wave of relief—more than elation—swept over the Rising Suns as they posted their eighth straight quarterfinal win and tenth straight dating back to the prelims.

Thipachot led Cagayan Valley anew with 22 markers while Tabaquero finished with thirteen as Maizo-Pontillas and Eulalio registered eleven points each. Valdez also led the Net Spikers with 22 points with Kesinee garnering fifteen markers and Soltones coming away with twelve. The final line was 25-21, 22-25, 25-19, 17-25, 15-13.

ALSO READ: Azkals-laiden Global sets sights on Singapore Cup Final

Smart-Maynilad drops to a 4-4 win-loss slate, still a full game ahead of PAF in the battle for third place. Cagayan Valley will be on a mission to officially oust PNP on Tuesday and will finish the quarterfinals on Sunday (October 6th) against the Lady Troopers.

For Valdez, she becomes the first player in league history to reach one hundred points in only four matches. In 2011, San Sebastian’s American guest player Lauren Ford totaled 99 points in four matches played and needed a fifth match to attain the “century”. Valdez has already amassed 102 points in her first four outings of the conference with scoring lines of 28, 25, 27 and this match’s 22. This is quite an achievement for the 20-year-old from Batangas.

Smart-Maynilad's Alyssa Valdez (#2) scored 102 points in 4 games, a league first (Photo: Arnold Z. Cruz)

A Smart-Maynilad win on Friday will lock up the third semis slot for the Net Spikers. An Air Force victory over Meralco will force the Power Spikers to be in a situation where they will have to win their final two matches. A loss by the Airwomen, however, endangers their chances of an outright qualification if Meralco wins at least two of last three encounters. Should Meralco sweep their remaining three matches and Air Force splits its last two, a playoff will ensue to determine the final semifinalist.

As of now, Air Force and Meralco still have their respective destinies in their hands. PNP needs assistance.

The Lady Patrolers must sweep their remaining three matches (against Smart-Maynilad, Meralco and Air Force) and hope that Air Force fails to win in its two last games and Meralco falters in its attempt to gain three wins. Should that happen, a playoff match will happen between PNP and fourth ranked team. Although there is a very slim chance of this occurring, anything is possible as we enter the homestretch of the quarters.

Running out of bullets: PNP needs a minor miracle for a semifinals berth (Photo: Arnold Z. Cruz)

Michele Gumabao and I will be your Tuesday date again, so be sure to catch the action at the San Juan Arena or via livestreaming on the league’s official website.

RELATED: Create your own: who would you put in the PH women's volleyball team?

We’re approaching the final lap before the Final Four. This should be a good one.


Philippine Army (7-1) def. Philippine Air Force (3-5), 25-22, 25-21, 21-25, 19-25, 15-13

PA—Balse 24, Gonzaga 17, Daquis 14, Bunag 7, Carolino 7, Salak 5, Bautista 3, Cruz 3, Sabas 1, Siatan-Torres (L) 0, Nunag (L) 0, Iratay 0.

PAF—Caballejo 29, Semana 15, Cases 12, Ortiz 12, de Ramos 7, Pantino 5, Dimaculangan 4, Abanto (L) 0, Manzano 0, Andaya 0.

Cagayan Valley (8-0) def. Smart-Maynilad (4-4), 25-21, 22-25, 25-19, 17-25, 15-13

CV—Thipachot 22, Tabaquero 13, Eulalio 11, Maizo-Pontillas 11, Soraya 7, P. Soriano 4, Benito 3, Pineda 2, Dionela (L) 0, Saet 0.

SM-M—Valdez 22, Kesinee 15, Soltones 12, Roces 7, de Leon 4, C. Soriano 4, Guliman 4, Banaticla 2, Gohing (L) 0, Ferrer 0.

Follow Noel Zarate on Twitter (@NoelZarate) and email