THREE-time Super Liga champion Army salvaged their All Filipino Conference campaign with a 25-18, 25-23, 21-25, 19-25, 15-11 victory over dethroned champion Petron on Thursday at The Arena in San Juan.
Jovelyn Gonzaga scored 22 points, 17 on attacks, to lead the Lady Troopers, winners of the 2013 Invitational and Grand Prix titles and the 2014 All Filipino.
Honey Royse Tubino also added 15 points, while Nerissa Bautista and Jessey de Leon scored 10 each as the RC Cola-backed squad settled for third place.
The Lady Troopers snapped a five-game losing skid, dating back to the end of elimination round against F2 Logistics, as they were winless in the second round and lost to Foton in the semis.
But for RC Cola Army coach Kungfu Reyes, who lost two of his wards – Rachel Anne Daquis and Joanne Bunag – due to injuries, the bronze medal glittered like gold.
“Buti na lang nanalo kami ngayon. Sa (battle for) third and fourth sabi ko nga sa kanila, kunin natin ang bronze. At least it shines like a gold,” he said.
“‘Yun na lang ang motivation namin, tapusin namin ang conference ng medyo maganda,” he added. “Wala naman kami dapat ikahiya, nasa top four kami, we finished third. ‘Yun nga noong lumiwanag na at nawala na ang usok, nakatayo pa rin kami sa panagatlo, hindi na rin masama.”
Reyes stressed that the league is a never-ending process of improvement that they need to constantly keep up.
“Ano lang naman, nag-iimprove naman ang lahat ng laro, nagmamature ang mga players at lumalakas din syempre malakas ang liga eh hindi ka pwede basta-basta (sasabak lang). Kung hindi ka magpe-prepare may kalalagyan ka,” he said.
“’Yung conference na ‘to, ang tumalo sa amin ‘yung injuries. So nawalan kami ng 20 points per game, hindi namin ma-cope up ang 20 points na nawala sa amin kasi nawala ang rotation namin, kay Rachel at kay Joanne,” he added. “So ‘yung mga pamalit namin sila ang nakababad ngayon. Kung sila naman ang kailangan ng papalit sa kanila, wala na kami mahugot, that’s why.”
After two sluggish sets in the third and fourth, the Lady Troopers regained composure to take an early 4-0 lead in the fifth set and never gave the Tri-Activ Spikers a chance to get closer.
RC Cola Army reached match point, 14-9, before Petron threatened, 11-14, but Gonzaga came with a powerful kill to end the agony of the dethroned champion.
Meanwhile, Gonzaga, Tubino, Sarah Jane Gonzales, Jeannie delos Reyes, Genie Sabas, Tin Agno and Nene Bautista will undergo a Candidate Soldier Course for six to eight months and will miss the Grand Prix on October.
Bernadeth Pons made 17 points for Petron, while Ces Molina added 11.