ALYSSA Valdez led the way anew for Smart, which got an added boost with the surprise appearance of Dindin Santiago, as the Net Spikers overcame Philippine Army in five sets on Sunday to advance to the Finals of the Shakey's V-League Season 10 Open Conference at The Arena in San Juan.
Ateneo star Valdez scored the last five points for the Net Spikers to seal the victory, 21-25, 25-20, 25-13, 21-25, 15-10, and set up a title showdown with unbeaten Cagayan Valley.
"Masaya lang ako na magfa-Finals na kami," said Smart coach Roger Gorayeb. "Ayaw ko muna mag-isip ng kahit ano. Ise-celebrate ko muna ang panalo namin."
Down by three, 7-10, the Lady Troopers snatched the lead after a 16-4 rally to put up a comfortable 23-14 advantage.
Valdez, NU star Santiago and Maru Banaticla came up with 6-0 spurt to cut down Smart's deficit, 21-23. Army, however, scored on a Valdez service error as Rachel Anne Daquis scored on a power hit to extend the match.
The Net Spikers regained control in the fifth and sealed the win in two hours.
"Syempre naman (masaya) kasi 'yung mga teams dito (sa V-League) 'di papayag na matalo lahat kami dito gusto mag Finals," said Gorayeb.
Valdez finished with 24 points, Thai import Lithawat Kesinee added 22 and Santiago came up with 19.
Game One of the best-of-three Finals series is set Tuesday.
Jovelyn Gonzaga came through with 17 markers and Rachel Anne Daquis contributed 12 for Army, which ended the tournament with 10-5 win-loss card.
It was Santiago's first game in the tournament, which surprised not only their rivals but the Net Spikers themselves.
"Kanina lang ako tinawagan ni Dindin sabi niya 'coach maglalaro po ako,'" said Gorayeb.
"Actually ako lang ang may alam na maglalaro siya nagulat na lang sila players na dumating siya (Dindin)."