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.

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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.

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THROWBACK: Super Liga semis preview: Petron vs Cignal HD

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The first time that Cignal and Petron faced each other in the Philippine Superliga, former UST Tigress Venus Bernal and the rest of the HD Spikers emerged victorious with a rather easy 3-set win, 25-22, 25-17, 25-23.

This loss by the crowd favorite Lady Blazers came as a surprise to the thousands who attended the opener at the PhilSports Arena. With volleyball stalwarts like Aiza Maizo, Angge Tabaquero, Maika Ortiz, Rhea Dimaculangan, Charo Soriano and Fille Cainglet at the helm, they were poised to trample the underdog team and go home with a win but to no avail.

Lady Blazers: A tale of chemistry and rusty defense

When you put volleyball superstars from two different powerhouse collegiate teams, University of Santo Tomas and Ateneo de Manila University, your initial reaction would be “This should be explosive!” What we didn’t expect is the possibility that the team may lack chemistry. Perhaps due to limited time to train together, the spikers were not able to connect well with setter Dimaculangan as well as people expected.

Jessica Curato, perhaps the most steady libero UST has produced in recent years, was the starting libero during that game. Spectators believe her reception was shaky and she was pretty much not in the best playing form. That is probably the reason why the crowd kept chanting “Gohing!” badgering Coach Vilet Ponce De Leon to use the then-not lined up defense specialist Melissa Gohing.

HD Spikers: Easily exceeding expectations

This team came into the picture with very little expectations from the fans. With skipper Venus Bernal and libero Jen Reyes as the only notable players when the line ups were released, it was easy to underestimate this squad and relax, which is exactly what happened to the Lady Blazers.

Lefty Danika Genrauli and middle hitter Honey Royse Tubino fired off 12 and 11 points, respectively, catching Petron’s defense off guard. As the Lady Blazers focused too much on Bernal’s offense and Reyes’ defense, these two had a field day in spiking.

It is inevitable there would be a rematch. And this time around, the stakes are higher as these two teams are in the semis and will battle it out for a chance to be in the first Philippine Super Liga finals.

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What Petron needs to do:

Start strong. This team is notorious for having a slow start and catching up in the end. They have been successful so far but it would be a lot easier if they show their full capacity right at the start of the game.

Use Liss Gohing as the main libero. Come on! You are going up against a Jen Reyes. To be the best, you have to use the best.

Blocking must be spot on especially against Bernal and Gendrauli. If Petron can neutralize at least one of these two, they have a high chance of going into the Finals.

What Cignal must do:

Frustrate Maika Ortiz by providing good net defense. Letting Ortiz score point after point with her running hits will be a big headache for the HD Spikers but if they become aggressive early on with their blocking, they might be able to negate her output.

Setter Argarin needs to continue doing a great job with her ball distribution. Remember to utilize Mitch Datuin, Gendrauli and Tubino but do not forget that for crucial points, never hesitate to give it to Venus Bernal.

Jen Reyes’ digging would prove to be highly necessary for this game. Going up against power hitters from Petron would be a lot easier if her defensive skills would be business as usual.

Prediction:

Now that Petron’s chemistry issue has already been addressed and Liss Gohing has been added to beef up their already strong squad, I see a 3-4 sets victory for the Lady Blazers.