THE Creamline Cool Smashers, led by the irrepressible Alyssa Valdez, barely missed the championship round of the Philippine Volleyball League Open Conference just a few weeks ago.
They improved exponentially this conference with the addition of former Ateneo De Manila University (also a former teammate of Valdez) setter Jia Morado as well as libero Angela Nunag.
This was most evident when the Cool Smashers prevailed over PVL Open Conference runner-up Bali Pure Water Defenders in four hard-fought sets (25-19, 28-30, 25-19, 31-29) last Wednesday to grab a share of the lead.
Valdez, enjoying plenty of quality sets, exploded 39 points which was just two shy of her career-best mark. Morado unloaded a season-best 71 excellent sets thanks in large part to the excellent defense of Nunag who had 31 digs.
Valdez, one of the country’s most-feared hitters, sprayed Bali Pure with 34 spikes, two aces and also had a block while producing 17 digs to help steer the Cool Smashers to their second consecutive victory following their four-set win over the Adamson-Akari Lady Falcons last Saturday.
The former UAAP and league MVP downplayed her exploits and insisted it was another team effort that kept them in step with the hot-starting Lady Warriors.
Valdez had a then career-high 39-hit output with Customs in a five-set triumph over Laoag last year during the Reinforced Conference. This was more impressive because she tallied the similar output in just four sets.
“It was a total team effort and I just wanted to help the team win,” said Valdez, also one of the spearheads of the national team vying in next month SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur.
With newcomers Morado, Nunag, Rosemarie Vargas and Rizza Mandapat, the Cool Smashers appear to have completed the pieces needed to make Creamline a worthy title contender in the league backed by Mikasa and Asics.
Morado, a former UAAP best setter and Ateneo star, put up a record-breaking stint with a season-best 71 excellent sets. Nunag had a match-best 31 digs. Vargas and Mandapat, who both came from Customs, backed them up with 19 and eight points, respectively.
Still, with Valdez sustaining her fierce form and the rest backing her up with superb all-around games, the Cool Smashers could be heading to a solid finish after a fifth-place effort in the recent Reinforced Conference.
“We’re still a work in progress but we’re improving and growing as a team every game,” said Valdez.
Creamline tallied a first victory with a scrambling four-set decision over Akari-Adamson, 25-17, 18-25, 25-15, 25-22, earlier in the week.
Valdez and Vargas fired 18 markers as the Cool Smashers came back strong from a second set slide, exploiting their edge upfront on better first-ball receives while foiling the Lady Falcons’ attacks with superb floor defense and digs to fashion out the hard-earned victory.
But the win didn’t come easy for the Cool Smashers, composed of former collegiate stars who needed to recover and regroup to frustrate their youthful rivals bracing for the UAAP.
The PVL tournament is the mid-season conference of the country’s premier women’s volley league organized by Sports Vision.
“We had to work on our service receives in the last two sets to set up our attacks,” said Vargas, who later went on to bag the game’s top honors.
After being outplayed in the opening frame, the Akari-backed Lady Falcons put up one big stand in the second, rallying from an early 3-7 deficits and battling their fancied rivals in a back-and-forth duel midway in the set before unleashing a strong finishing kick anchored on Jessica Galanza.
After grabbing the lead for the second time, 18-17, on a Valdez service error, the Lady Falcons leaned on the power-hitting Galanza, who scored on back-to-back spikes as Adamson took five of the last six points to steal the set from the recent Reinforced Conference third placers.