The Philippine Super Liga Individual Awards Race

Now that we’re heading into the knockout stages of the ongoing Philippine Super Liga (PSL) Invitational, we can begin examining who might be taking down individual awards for this first ever season of the pioneer women’s volleyball club league in the country.

Who going to get some hardware? (Photo: Spikers League Facebook page)

After a total of fifteen matches have been played in the recently concluded preliminary round, many are installing former UST skipper Venus Bernal of Cignal HD as the top contender for the MVP plum. Bernal faces stiff competition from the likes of teammate Honey Royse Tubino, PLDT MyDSL’s Pau Soriano, TMS-Philippine Army’s Joanne Bunag and Petron’s Aiza Maizo-Pontillas. There are other accolades up from grabs, however, in the Best Scorer, Best Spiker/Attacker, Best Blocker, Best Server, Best Setter, Best Digger, Best Receiver and even a special award for Best Libero—which could be the most tightly contested of them all. Let’s go thru the stats provided to us by the league and you get to play the role of swami in determining which volleybelle goes home feted after the Grand Finale on Sunday (July 28).

As far as points go, here’s where we’re at:

PSL Best Scorers (PSL VIS)So as you can see, Bernal doesn’t really have a huge edge over Soriano even though Venus holds the league record for most points attained in a game with 24. Tubino and Speed Boosters’ ace Angela Benting form the second tier while Bunag, Maizo-Pontillas, and Cagayan Valley’s deadly twosome of Joy Cases and Sandra de los Santos form the third pursuit group. Since all teams are still in the running, the quarterfinal scores will still count, which could be a big disadvantage for Bernal and Bunag whose respective teams have earned byes. The league will average the total points against the total games played to balance out this issue for sure. But it appears to be a close race between Bernal and Soriano—at least as far as points goes.

Venus Bernal (L) is presently the league's leading scorer (Photo: Jamil Buergo)

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The spiking department tells a completely different story, though, as this is wholly based on success percentage:

PSL Best Spikers (PSL VIS)Tubino and Soriano have been delivering the goods using less attempts, which taints Bernal’s successes in scoring as she attempts more attacks and, thus, will get foiled a lot more than the two aforementioned centers. Maizo-Pontillas is the only non-center in the top four, but got most of her points (20) in that one game against Cagayan Valley where she started—and played a lot—at center. That helped jack up her percentages.

Royse Tubino (L) has the edge in spiking percentages (Photo: Arnold Z. Cruz)

Soriano is tops in the league in blocking, which could make a solid case for her MVP campaign:

PSL Best Blockers (PSL VIS)This is one of the most overlooked stats—unless you go back in time to when people like Roxanne Pimentel, Maureen Penetrante and even Mic-Mic Laborte made this glamorous. Maika Ortiz of Petron and Bingo Milyonaryo’s Laborte are still making noise in this category. Soriano (only about 5'9") has been exceptional in this regard. Unfortunately, it has not really translated into wins for the Speed Boosters (1-4).

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Pau Soriano is in the top 3 in 3 different categories: MVP case? (Photo: Roy Afable)

Speaking of overlooked stats, serving is definitely one of them. Rachel Anne Daquis made this stylish when her “remote control” serve terrorized opposing liberos (OK, maybe not Jen Reyes or Jheck Dionela). Take a look at this:

PSL Best Servers (PSL VIS)De los Santos has really dominated in this category, which—as I said in a previous article—now makes her one of the most dangerous players in the nation as her serve was arguably the only weakness in her game. The surprising name on this list is Jac Alarca, who was more known for her blocking than anything else. Serves set the tone for the offense and in the case of Cagayan Valley, directly translated to three straight wins courtesy of Sandra.

Sandra de los Santos' (#10) blocking is given. It's her serving that's impressed (Photo: Arnold Z. Cruz)

Before the tournament began, if you told me that Cignal's Arriane Argarin would be the most efficient setter in the league, I would have flat out disagreed. I mean, she's really good (as evidenced by Perpetual's back-to-back NCAA crowns under her orchestration), but you got the legends of the game in the Lady Troopers’ Tina Salak, former UAAP Finals MVP Rhea Dimaculangan, former UAAP champions Wendy Semana and Chie Saet as well as the very steady May Macatuno to get by. Argarin, however, has been one of the catalysts in why Cignal is presently sitting pretty in the semifinals. Check this out:

PSL Best Servers (PSL VIS)

Argarin is averaging over 60% in her set efficiency; meaning she makes more great things happen than committing mistakes, which is phenomenal. Bernal, Tubino and southpaw Danika Gendrauli have been the biggest beneficiaries of Argarin’s rise to dominance, and the HD Spikers—as a team—have completely reaped the benefits of her steadiness.

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Arriane Argarin has been the biggest surprise of the league so far (Photo: Arnold Z. Cruz)

The digging and receiving wars is—as foretold—clearly contested by only three ladies:

PSL Best Digger (PSL VIS)

PSL Best Receivers (PSL VIS)Many will be surprised by the efficiency of Dionela as Reyes has been the more celebrated by the fans. In the case of PLDT MyDSL’s Lizlee Ann Gata-Pantone, she’s still keeping up with the younger guns. Had Petron’s Melissa Gohing played more games, she’d also have contended for any of these two categories. It’s also quite intriguing that Cagayan Valley’s Sheila Pineda is hanging with the icons in these departments; a testament on the premium "Bangnita" now places on defense.

Lizlee Ann "Tatan" Gata-Pantone is keeping in step with the youngsters (Photo: Arnold Z. Cruz)

Needless to say, the fans will have a tough time predicting the winner of the Best Libero award. Gata-Pantone has shown that she still has it, while Gohing has not gotten enough exposure to showcase her talents in the way we know she can. That being said, the Best Libero battle is really down to two of the very best in the archipelago today:

PSL Best Liberos (PSL VIS)The shocker here is that Gata-Pantone still has the most in terms of excellents (both digging and receiving). The flashiness of Reyes and Dionela has somehow overshadowed the former Adamson Lady Falcon’s brilliance. It’s only in the percentages that Gata-Pantone lags behind the two upstarts. But speaking of the two newly graduated collegiate floor patrol phenoms, it will be interesting to see how the league tackles this one. It’s way too close, stats-wise and could also be the case, fan-wise.

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The author with Jen Reyes (L) and Jheck Dionela: close fight for Best Libero (Photo: George Calvelo/NPPA Image …

It will depend on how the PSL goes about feting people. The UAAP and NCAA are based mainly on the players’ stats. In the Shakey’s V-League, stats play an important role but the overall impact of the players is also taken into consideration. We’ll find out how the PSL acts on this during the Grand Finals.

As for you the fans, here are the results of your votes when I posted the question on Twitter:

MVP: Venus Bernal (60%), Aiza Maizo-Pontillas (30%), Pau Soriano (5%), someone else (5%)

Best Libero: Jen Reyes (70%), Jheck Dionela (25%), Gohing (4%), Gata-Pantone (1%)

How about you Yahoo! Sports Philippines faithful? Who are your top performers of the league?

Follow Noel Zarate on Twitter (@NoelZarate) and email