BACK in the rhythm after a mid-conference struggle, defending Cagayan Valley tries to finish with a flourish and prove its local players can deliver a title as the V-League Open Conference title series begins on Thursday at The Arena in San Juan.
Winners of the import-laced Open last year, the Rising Suns battle a tough Air Force side that is looking to score a twinkill after ruling the Super Liga All Filipino last month.
The opener of the best-of-three series starts at 4 p.m.
Cagayan romped to victory with a 16-game sweep in last year's tournament, with Thai reinforcements Kannika Thipachot and Phomia Soraya getting the Best Scorer and Best Setter awards, respectively.
“Ayun nga ang sinasabi ko sa kanila, ma-challege kayo na manalo tayo ng walang import,” said Cagayan Valley coach Nes Pamilar.
“Ano ’yun gusto niyo ba na sabihin ng mga tao na nanalo lang tayo (last year) kasi may import tayo?”
Cagayan still has an intact line up led by former University of Santo Tomas stars Aiza Maizo and Angge Tabaquero, Pau Soriano and Wenneth Eulalio, with Janine Marciano from San Beda providing added offensive power.
But the reigning champions struggled in the six-team quarterfinals, losing four straight before getting back on track and now enter the finals on a three-match win streak including a sweep of PLDT in the semis.
“Mas masarap na championship ’to kung sakali,” said Pamilar. “Kasi nagdaan kami sa hirap, maganda ang elimination namin, humabol kami sa quarters at na sweep ang semis.”
Meanwhile, Army looks to get back on top of the V-League three years after their first title. The Lady Troopers missed entire Season 9 but returned last year and placed third.
But the Lady Troopers have been dominant in the Super Liga, winning all three conferences so far.
Also, two Army spikers were actually part of the champion team in the First Conference, with Rachel Anne Daquis and Jovelyn Gonzaga leading the FEU squad to the title.
“Ang tagal na nung huli kaming nag-champion dito, gusto ko ulit makita ang pangalan ng Army na champion dito sa liga," said Lady Troopers coach Rico de Guzman.
“Magta-trabaho kami para sa karangalan ng Army sa larangan ng volleyball pag nakuha namin ito matapos ang sa PSL," he said.
Ging Balse, Nene Bautista and star setter Tina Salak are also expected to deliver big numbers for the Lady Troopers.
PLDT and Philippine Air Force begin best-of-three battle for third at 2 p.m.