LAOAG, ILOCOS NORTE — Black Mamba-Army, BaliPure, Cignal HD Spikers, and Perlas missed the semifinals, but all are leaving the Premier Volleyball League (PVL) bubble with happiness and hope for the continuity of the sport amid the pandemic.
Sta. Lucia, which finished No. 5 with 5-4 record, and PLDT (3-6) arrived in Manila on Saturday.
The four also-ran teams are departing Laoag on Sunday, bringing home with them a once-in-a-lifetime experience as part of the maiden professional volleyball league in the country, which kicked off despite the trying times.
“Ang sarap siya ikwento someday. First time na nangyari ‘to,” said Lady Trooper Jovelyn Gonzaga after capping their bubble stint with a four-set win over Cignal on Saturday.
“Sobrang test of mental health, mental strength kung hanggang saan ka. Sunod sunod kasi yung laro namin. Snappy salute ako sa lahat ng atleta dito.”
Titas of Army
For Lady Troopers head coach KungFu Reyes, finishing in the sixth place with 4-5 record wasn’t the result he wanted.
But for the oldest team in the league with an average of 29.8, he was happy about how his wards — also led by Ging Balse-Pabayo, Joanne Bunag, Royse Tubino and Nene Bautista — proved that they still got it, even coming off a year-long layoff.
“Thankful pa rin kami sa sakripisyo ng mga titas of volleyball,” said Reyes. “At their age talagang competitive pa rin. At least kami on a highest note natapos namin na masaya, masigla, at ligtas sa injuries yung mga players.”
The Lady Troopers hope to get better from where they left off, as long as there will be continuity and more time to prepare for the next conference.
Intermittent connection in Laoag
Rachel Anne Daquis and the HD Spikers struggled in the whole conference, finishing last with 1-8 record.
It was a test of character for Daquis, who is leading a team in transition and playing in a game-practice-game setup that also includes the mental challenges of a bubble.
“Itong season na to napaka-memorable sa akin kasi tinest ang pagkatao. I almost lost myself, but nilabanan ko siya sa tulong ng team ko na walang sawa ang supporta at pagmamahal,” she said.
The Cignal skipper admitted they lacked team cohesion. But the frustrating result won’t stop them from getting better.
“All of us are strong individually. Nagkulang kami to prepare collectively and we don’t deny that. Hindi namin na-adapt agad ang transition,” said Daquis. “But what I am happy lang are the young ones have a bright future ahead. We will come back stronger.”
“What’s next for me? I will focus to become better and will be back stronger,” she concluded.
Making a big splash
The revamped BaliPure was counted out and tagged as cellar dwellers in pre-season predictions. But the bubble proved it belongs in the pro ranks.
The Water Defenders, led by Graze Bombita, made a big splash to start the conference winning two of their first three games — highlighted with a five-set stunner over the Jaja Santiago-led Chery Tiggo.
However, they failed to ride on their momentum, and kissed their semis hopes goodbye, losing five straight games before capping their bubble stint with a four-set win over the Perlas Spikers to finish eighth with 3-6 record.
Bombita, part of Balipure’s bottom place finish in 2019, was pleased with the vast improvement of a team that has several newcomers like Alina Bicar, Bern Flora, Gyra Barroga, Gen Casugod, and Sati Espiritu.
“Sobra pong masaya kasi kahit isang buwan pa lang kami nagsama. Doon sa training namin, nakita ko na yung connection ng bawat isa and paunti-unti namin nakuha yung rhythm namin sa loob ng court. Naging maganda yung naging resulta namin,” said the 30-year-old, who also earned the first PVL Press Corps Player of the Week after their strong start.
Even if the next conference is still uncertain, Bombita said the Water Defenders will keep on striving hard even in zoom workouts while the National Capital Region is still placed under Enhanced Community Quarantine.
“Mag-aantay pa rin kami, tuloy-tuloy lang yung pagpapakondisyon ng katawan. Mahirap kasi pag na-stop, mahirap maghabol,” she said.
Tough like pearls
Even before the tournament started, Perlas has already won bigger battles.
The Perlas Spikers had bouts with COVID-19 in their Baguio bubble training, where seven players and a coach contracted the virus, and even inside the PVL bubble, after a delegation member tested positive. This resulted in a postponement of their first week games, as well as a compressed schedule.
In their first pro stint, the team lost eight of its nine games, but sneaked in a statement win over Cignal.
It wasn’t the the result they aimed for, but coach Rei Diaz was extremely proud of his Perlas Spikers, who put up a gallant stand in every fight — highlighted with a valiant effort of forcing the defending champion Creamline in five sets.
“Ako, siyempre, hindi ako satisfied na natalo, pero masaya ako dahil lahat ng nilaro namin humahanga ako sa players namin kasi kada game binibigay nung bawat isa yung best nila,” said Diaz. “Kita niyo naman basta may hinugot tayo magdedeliver ibibigay yung best.”
After going through a lot, playing the sport they love after a year-long inactivity is already a big win for the Perlas Spikers.
“Yung mga unang talo nakaka-frustrate, pero sabi ko nga dapat ang makita natin kung ano yung pinagkaloob sa atin. Eh yung matapos yung liga na ‘to para sa team namin sobrang laking bagay,” the Perlas coach said.
“Alam naman natin almost hindi nga kami nakapag-training pero para sa akin malaking achievement yung uuwi yung players ko nang safe and walang injury... [o] kung meron man, minor.”
All these teams hope the situation gets better in the National Capital Region for the PVL to stage another conference in the last quarter of 2021.
But for now, they will rest and make up for lost time with their families after a grueling and mentally-challenging Ilocos Norte bubble.
We are now on Quento! Download the app to enjoy more articles and videos from SPIN.ph and other Summit Media websites.