THE year 2018 was full of momentous events - from the unheralded underdogs to the heavy-favorite powerhouse teams, it was another year to remember.
Now that the year is at its end, let us look back on the volleyball season that was.
A well-oiled wrecking machine.
That was Petron in the Philippine Superliga 2018 season.
Fueled by their powerhouse core bannered by Ces Molina, Aiza Maizo-Pontillas, Rhea Dimaculangan, Mika Reyes and Remy Palma, the Blaze Spikers dominated their way to capture the league’s two major tournaments, the Grand Prix and All-Filipino Conference, and become the winningest club in the PSL
with five franchise championships.
“Nagkaroon ng magandang result 'yung pinaghirapan naming lahat, especially 'yung mga players namin na lahat ng game plan namin, ng program, nag-stick sila,” said Petron head coach Shaq Delos Santos on their successful year.
“Nakaka-proud kasi hindi sila mahirap kausap. Kung ano 'yung gusto naming mangyari, doon din sila. So kung saan 'yung goal namin, doon lahat,” he added.
Imports Lindsay Stalzer and Katherine Bell powered the Blaze Spikers to exact a sweet revenge on rivals F2 Logistics Cargo Movers and capture the Grand Prix crown in the decider of their best-of-three title series.
Grand Prix MVP Stalzer and Bell, who replaced ex-import Hillary Hurley in the crucial stretch of classifications and quarterfinals due to ankle injury, were a perfect fit to Petron to finally end a three-year title drought and avenge their 2017 Grand Prix heartbreak at the helm of F2 Logistics, led by imports MJ Perez and Kennedy Bryan as well as local Cha Cruz-Behag.
Bernadeth Pons and Sisi Rondina also delivered a golden repeat in the PSL beach volleyball challenge cup as they dominated the summer tournament and finished with another perfect season sweeping all five matches from the eliminations up to the finals.
The two top collegiate players joined Petron in the Invitational only to be swept in the Finals at the expense of Conference MVP Ara Galang and the Cargo Movers.
But in the All-Filipino Conference, Petron was all business in defending its throne.
The Blaze Spikers played like a well-oiled wrecking machine winning 13 straight games — capped by a three-set victory over the Cargo Movers in Game 1 of their best-of-three titular series —to tie the historic 13-0 sweep of the 2015 All-Filipino championship team of Petron led by former stars Dindin Santiago-Manabat, Rachel Anne Daquis and Aby Maraño.
F2 Logistics spoiled Petron’s shot to a historic 14-0 title run taking Game 2 to force a rubber match but the Blaze Spikers didn’t wanted to suffer another heartbreak as they swept the Cargo Movers in three sets to win Game 3 and become the first PSL club to win back-to-back titles in the All-Filipino Conference.
The Blaze Spikers had a successful year proving that they are the best club team in the PSL. But with several players of their championship core becoming free agents, will they extend their dynasty in 2019?
The Arellano University Lady Chiefs accomplished a golden repeat with a Finals sweep on first-timers, San Beda Lady Red Spikers to capture the NCAA Season 93 (NCAA) women’s volleyball crown last February.
It was their third title in four seasons with Finals MVP Regine Arocha rising to the occasion and also helped graduating Jovielyn Prado, Andrea Marzan and Mary Anne Esguerra to end their collegiate careers with a fitting swan song.
"Napakasaya, kasi ang program namin, talagang gumaganda lalo," said Arellano head coach Obet Javier, who has been handling the program since 2011.
From defying Grethcel Soltones and San Sebastian College’s thrice-to-beat advantage in 2017, the Lady Chiefs won 19 straight games in their seventh game of Season 93 only to be halted by College of Saint Benilde Lady Blazers last January 29 but since that setback Arellano dominated its way to the title.
Without Arocha, Esguerra and Marzan, Arellano is now leading the NCAA Season 94 with a 6-0 win-loss record with Arocha and last year’s top rookie Necole Ebuen leading the way.
The Lady Chiefs are just three games away from sweeping the eliminations and earning the outright finals berth.
But will they complete a rare ‘three-peat’ and extend their reign in the NCAA as it reached its climax in January 2019?
The UP Lady Maroons suddenly became the heavy favorites to win the UAAP Season 81 women’s volleyball tournament next year after ruling the prestigious collegiate conferences of PVL and PSL.
UP head coach Godfrey Okumu utilized his pool of players — mostly rookies — fielding different rosters in their pre-season leagues with Isa Molde leading the PVL squad, while Tots Carlos bannering the PSL team.
Conference and Finals Most Valuable Player Molde led UP in ending its 36-year title drought in a major volleyball tournament as the Lady Maroons swept the championship series — in a come-from-behind fashion winning Game 1 by erasing a 2-0 match deficit and clinched the title in Game 2 with a fifth-set comeback from a 7-13 deficit — to overwhelm the FEU Lady Tamaraws and rule the PVL Collegiate Conference last September.
UP was a fourth placer and needed to overcome elimination-round sweeper Adamson in three matches in the semifinals.
Missing the PVL title run due to a stress fracture on her shin, it was Carlos’s turn to deliver a championship for UP in the PSL Collegiate Grand Slam as the inaugural Conference MVP unleashed 17 points to lead the Lady Maroons in outlasting the UST Tigresses, 25-21, 16-25, 25-23, 25-19, in the winner-take-all final.
UP won four of its five-game eliminations with its lone loss coming from erstwhile-unbeaten UST before bouncing back and getting the more important triumph in the finale.
But for Okumu, winning two major volleyball titles in the pre-season means a lot of pressure as they head into the real fight in the UAAP
“It means a lot of pressure. For them and for me. That's what it means,” Okumu said. “We had a trophy, and this is the second one. It's just a big pressure, and just hoping for the best.”
Heading into the UAAP, Okumu said that all their success in the pre-season will be put into waste if they won’t live up to the expectations in their main tournament.
“We want to go out there and win the UAAP, but we have to tread carefully. We have to be polite as we move on, train and work hard because it's a really big challenge for us,” the Kenyan coach said. “We wouldn't like to play so well in the offseason, and when the real tournament comes up, we don't perform.”
It’s a daunting task for the Lady Maroons heading into Season 81 but Okumu said that they will embrace the ‘UP Fight!’ mantra.
“So I believe, it puts us in a very tight situation, but the fight is there. So we're gonna fight until the end,” he said.
La Salle’s legacy
For the 10th straight season, La Salle made its way to the finals as it continued its dominance in the UAAP women’s volleyball.
In 2018, the Lady Spikers won their third straight championship and 11th overall title in the league.
Leading the way for the Taft-based squad were Kim Dy, Majoy Baron and Dawn Macandili, sweeping Far Eastern University in the best-of-three finals series as the Lady Spikers recorded their third three-peat success after ruling Season 66-68, 73-75 and the last 78-80.
Behind La Salle’s success is its mentor for 21 years - Ramil de Jesus, a no drama, no non-sense type of coach, whose tough love and straightforward approach of coaching were just some of the main reasons why his team was so successful.
His players, former and current, are always motivated to do their best hoping they could get a little praise from de Jesus.
La Salle’s hurdle for the year came midway in the season when it absorbed another heavy blow from Adamson University, 18-25, 25-15, 19-25, 22-25, on February 24 after losing to National University in five sets.
De Jesus, who’s not afraid to tell his wards what they need to hear, did not hold back his thoughts when he told them that they were playing as if a barangay level team.
After the game, the Lady Spikers received a mouthful from de Jesus.
“Dapat kapag suot mo and jersey ng La Salle dapat larong La Salle ang gagawin mo, hindi ‘yung, sabi ko nga kanina, parang ang suot mo isang team lang sa barangay eh,” he told them during the post-game huddle.
“Pambarangay lang ang laro niyo, doon lang kayo bagay, hindi kayo bagay sa UAAP,” he added.
Coming back after a tough loss, the Lady Spikers proved they’re champions for nothing.
La Salle vented its ire on bitter rival Ateneo, 25-20, 25-17, 24-26, 25-20, just a week later.
“Sa ngayon, ‘yung determination manalo pang-UAAP na,” he said. “Hindi kasi ako mahilig pumuri ng player eh. Palagi ‘yung mistakes ang pinapansin ko sa kanila, ‘yung magaganda hindi ko sinasabi.”
After all that was said and done, the seasoned mentor, who has changed a lot since his first year of coaching, said that it was his wards’ desire to win that always made them reach their goal.
“Siguro hard work ‘yun, tapos pangalawa ‘yung mga bata kasi generation to generation, ‘yung siguro ang nakikita nila sa mga iniiwan sa kanila ng mga senior players nila and then naa-adapt nila ang tradition ng team,” he said.
Creamline’s sweet story
After falling short of a title in 2017 when it first joined the Premier Volleyball League, Creamline had a major recruiting coup this 2018 adding Michele Gumabao, Mel Gohing, Risa Sato and Fille Cainglet to beef up its roster.
The new additions along with mainstays Alyssa Valdez, Jia Morado and Pau Soriano, with Kuttika Kaewpin and Laura Schaudt as imports the Cool Smashers ruled the Reinforced Conference defeating PayMaya in two games the best-of-three finals series.
Aside from the championship, Valdez was also named first best outside spiker, Gumabao was the best opposite spiker and Morado was the best setter.
Before the year ends, Creamline dominated the Open Conference, sweeping Ateneo-Motolite in the best-of-three finals series.
“Pinagtyagaan nila and pursigido sila (manalo),” said Creamline team owner Jonathan Ng. “Noong first season sabi ko mabuo lang talaga. Second season, hindi ko binabanggit, pero sa sarili ko sabi ko champion naman sana. Kaya lang sabi ko lang sa kanila lagi play happy and win happy.”
“This is very special, coming from a start up team last year, coming into this season we felt that we had a good chance I didn’t realize how string they have become and I’m really proud of them,” he added.
The players, led by Valdez, the team captain, dedicated their two titles to coach Tai Bundit, who went back to Thailand for good to be with his family.
The Cool Smashers gave Bundit a fitting farewell gift as Morado bagged two awards, the best setter and finals MVP, Valdez was the conference MVP and first best outside spiker, and Jema Galanza was the second best outside spiker.
“We played to win and also for coach Tai, he deserves a great exit, he deserves nothing but the best,” said the PVL Open Reinforced Conference.
National University and University of Perpetual Help were victorious in the year 2018, winning in their respective leagues.
NU reclaimed the title in the UAAP men’s volleyball tournament, sending three-time defending champion Ateneo crashing back to earth.
Bryan Bagunas, Madzlan Gampong and James Natividad led the way for the Bulldogs, who continued their winning streak in the off-season tournament.
The Sampaloc-based squad reigned supreme in the Premier Volleyball League Collegiate Conference at the expense of University of Santo Tomas.
Early this month, NU also dominated the Asean University Games held in Naypyitaw, Myanmar.
The Bulldogs, who represented the Philippines in the tournament, dethroned Thailand, 27-25, 25-21, 22-25, 25-20.
Meanwhile, rookie MVP Joebert Almodiel delivered the goods for UPH as it turned back Arellano University in the NCAA men’s volleyball tournament.
The Altas captured their 11th title in the oldest collegiate league.