TMS-Army hands Cagayan first Super Liga Grand Prix loss

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MANILA, Philippines — The Lady Rising Suns failed to duplicate their Shakey’s V-league tournament sweep after yielding to the Lady Troopers in 4 sets, 19-25, 25-14, 25-13, 25-17, at the Philippine Super Liga Grand Prix held at the Arena in San Juan, Friday, November 15, 2013.

Capitalizing on the multiple errors committed by Philippine Army, the girls in Maroon were poised to get win number 2 as they showed no mercy, bombarding their opponents with their offensive prowess and commanding a big lead in the first set, 19-10.

Not to go down without a fight, Lady Trooper Michelle Carolino rallied her teammates via back-to-back spikes which brought them closer at 19-12. Cagayan Valley, though, proved to be too strong after Aiza Maizo, Jeng Kotruang and Wenneth Eulalio teamed up and unleashed hits from all angles that eventually won them the first frame.

In an interview with Army head coach Rico De Guzman after the match, he relayed that every aspect of the plays they trained for were in check in the first canto except their offense.

“Okay ang receive, okay ang set,” he said. “Nagka-problema lang kami sa atake.”

“Maaga pa lang, panay out na ang palo kaya nagka-patong patong na at nagsunod-sunod ang errors.”

But De Guzman was quick to make his adjustments as it was evidently a revitalized Army squad who showed up in the succeeding sets.

The Lady Troopers never looked back as they took the driver’s seat for the rest of the game and not once relinquished their lead.

“Sabi ko lang sa kanila, wag manggigil at wag madaliin ang opensa,” quipped De Guzman. “Yun lang talaga kulang eh.”

“Kaya nung nagawa nila, nagtuloy-tuloy na.”

Huge weight off their shoulders

Being the heavy favorites to win the tournament after being declared victors in a tournament prior to the Grand Prix, the Lady Rising Suns are suddenly in an unfamiliar territory after being outclassed by arch-rival Philippine Army.

After losing to the Lady Troopers in the semi-finals of Philippine Super Liga Invitational last summer, Cagayan successfully regrouped and exacted revenge against their tormentors by defeating Army twice in the eliminations and eventually copping the championship in the Shakey’s V-league Season 10 Open Conference.

Though a little disappointed with his wards’ performance, Cagayan head coach Ernesto “Nes” Pamilar welcomes the loss with arms wide open.

“Ang laking bawas sa pressure sa mga bata!”

“Ang daming humihiling na sweep ulit,” he said. “Ang taas ng expectations after ng V-league.”

Not one to downplay their measly output, Pamilar pointed out that most of his players had an off day in yesterday’s match.

“Off si Aiza at off din si April (Jose),” he added. “Dahil dun, nag-suffer ang depensa namin sa net at sa likod.”

Pamilar frankly stated that Army’s open spikers had a field day in using the blocking, or lack thereof, of his new setter April Jose.

“Kita mo naman, bawat palo pinadadaan kay April,” said the head coach. “Ang masama pa nun, mali yung posisyon ni Aiza sa likod kaya walang coverage.”

“Naloko na!”

Despite a relatively bad day, former UST Tigress Aiza Maizo still provided a 13-point output after uncorking 11 kills and 2 blocks for Cagayan while Thai imports Jeng Kotruang and Patcharee Saengmuang chipped in 13 and 11, respectively. 

Thai import and wing hitter Luangtonglang Wanitchaya indeed had a field day as she led Army with 23 markers off from 20 attacks, 2 blocks and 1 service ace with Mary Jean Balse and Jacq Alarca contributing identical 11 points apiece.

Both teams will face their next assignment on Wednesday, November 20, 2013 at the Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig as Army duels powerhouse PLDT Speed Boosters at 2 p.m. while Cagayan tries to finally grab their 2nd win against newcomer RC Cola Raiders at 4 p.m.

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THROWBACK: Super Liga semis preview: Army vs Cagayan

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In the first match of the Philippine Super Liga semifinals on Friday, July 26, TMS-Army will face the Cagayan Valley Lady Rising Suns, the only team able to beat them in the elimination round in a thrilling 5-setter, 25-23, 25-27, 26-24, 14-25, 15-12.

Both squads lived up to the hype as they were considered the teams to beat before the season began. Packed with a lot of veteran players (Army) and good floor defenders (Cagayan), the last game of the opening day was expected to go down to the wire. And boy, they did not disappoint.

Lady Rising Suns: Patient role players

As per FIVB rules, there can only be one libero inside the court. But with the way open spiker Bang Pineda played during that game, Jheck Dionela was not alone in defending Cagayan’s side of the court. Diving, rolling, digging and receiving like a true blue Lady Falcon, Pineda frustrated Army’s spikers right to the very end.

Role players Jennifer Manzano and Joy Cases scored 22 and 16 points, respectively, and sealed the deal for their team. They may not be popular with the fans but with their combined efforts, they outscored the Lady Troopers’ star-studded line-up.

Lady Troopers: Veterans outsmarted

Creating their own version of Double B, Mary Jean Balse and Joanne Bunag tried to dispose Cagayan by throwing in together a total of 37 points but got exhausted in the end due to the opponent’s pesky defense.

With an intact team composed of the Carolinos, Tina Salak, Ers Iratay, Dahlia Cruz, Balse, Bunag and Jacq Alarca, expectations were sky-high for TMS-Army. Pundits were straightforward in saying that the young team of Cagayan outlasted and outsmarted the veterans to get win number one solely because of that — they were younger, allowing them to last longer in grueling games like this.

Now, a rematch has been set up at a larger arena and the pressure is on. Will it be a repeat of the defeat? Or will it be a sweet story of an avenged loss? A tight race to the Finals has never been this close.

AVC 2

For Cagayan to get a Finals berth

Pineda once again needs to do an all-around job on both offense and defense. Her powerful attacks and ninja-like moves on the defensive end could spell victory for this team.

Take advantage of the rotation wherein Wendy Semana is in the front line while secondary playmaker Sarah Espelita takes care of the setting job. Semana is just an amazing setter and an even more amazing attacker. The latter skill is very much needed for an additional firepower.

If they get a steady performance from the rest of the team, they are definitely capabale of winning this match up again.

Keys to win for Philippine Army

Use their biggest and most obvious advantage: height! Not to disrespect the Rising Suns but they look small next to the towering Lady Troopers. If they can utilize their blocking, they can end this as quick as possible.

Main libero Nunag needs to step up big time. She will go up against Dionela who is currently first in receiving and second in digging while she is lagging way behind by being ranked 4th and 10th.

Setter Tina Salak should create plays that is not easy to read for Cagayan’s defenders. She has a tendency to overuse her open hitters. Good thing Bunag and Carolino deliver because if they don’t, they would be in big trouble.

Prediction

This is tough. Both teams have very different strengths and weaknesses. I’d say that this one is a possible 5-set match again going in favor of the Philippine Army only because they are the more experienced team.