On track for another crack at women’s volley’s version of a grand slam, Creamline looks to achieve the feat this year after falling short the first time out.
But after hurdling perhaps the biggest stumbling block to its mission, things look a lot enthusing for the Cool Smashers this time around.
They were a crown short of completing a first-ever sweep of three Premier Volleyball League jewels in a season after ruling the Open and Invitational conferences last year. But they failed to even make it past the semis stage of the Reinforced Conference.
They did win the battle for the bronze against the Chery Tiggo Crossovers, their 2019 Open Conference Finals tormentors, but in a pyrrhic victory as they lost skipper and leader Alyssa Valdez to injury.
That forced the many-time conference MVP and team leader to miss the entire All Filipino Conference but the talent-laden Cool Smashers proved more than up to the task, topping the elims, sweeping the F2 Logistics Cargo Movers in the semis and then overcoming Petro Gazz’s Game One win with a sweep of the next two in a series that was nothing but classic.
Sure, Creamline turned what was expected to be a dogfight of a sudden death into a virtual coronation bash with an empathic showing in the last two sets that spiked their 20-25, 25-20, 25-18, 25-15 title-clinching romp. But then again, one can’t fault them for dishing out their best against conceivably the best team to ever challenge them in a title face-off.
But coach Sherwin Meneses and his Cool Smashers are certainly not looking or plotting beyond their next mission – the PVL Invitational set next month with the season-ending Reinforced Conference the least of their worries at this stage of their campaign.
“Gusto muna naming mag-celebrate,” said Tots Carlos, who also achieved a personal milestone after winning the Conference MVP, her third after clinching the top honors in the Open and Invitational conferences last year.
The former UP stalwart emerged the leading scorer after the semis with 152 points, built on 136 spikes, five blocks and 11 aces. She normed 17.6 points in the title series, including 16 in Game 3.
“Yung MVP, gaya ng sinasabi ko parati, di naman kami focused doon sa individual awards. Team goal kami lagi. Sobrang grateful ko lang talaga na yung suporta ng teammates ko, hindi nawala kasi kundi dahil sa mga tao sa paligid ko, hindi ko makukuha yung award,” said Carlos.
Playmaker Jia de Guzman, who produced 18 excellent sets in the sudden death, doubling counterpart’s Djanel Cheng’s effort to clinch the Finals MVP honors, also credited their successful title-retention drive to their sacrifices and hard work.
“Sobrang overwhelming for us kasi hindi madali yung pinagdaanan namin to get this championship. Nakita talaga yung hard work na binuhos ng lahat sa team,” said de Guzman. “We only got a day in between to prepare for the next game, so grabe yung focus ng team sa recovery. And when we got to train for three hours, as in everyone present talaga. So we have to give it to the team and also to the coaching staff for helping us get this championship.”
In the next conference, Valdez is expected to re-join her team, making the Cool Smashers all the more formidable.
But the rest shall also have toughened up by next month, guaranteeing another highly-charged battle that has marked the season-opening conference of the league organized by Sports Vision.
Meanwhile, Carlos and de Guzman also led teammates Jema Galanza (best outside spiker) and Michele Gumabao (best opposite spiker) in the elite Premier Team, along with MJ Phillips of Petro Gazz (best middle blocker) and PLDT Kath Arado (best digger).
Galanza, on the other hand, anchored Creamline’s roaring finish as she kept on pounding on every opportunity to finish with 19 points while Gumabao capped her conference-long brilliance with 18 points and Ced Domingo and Risa Sato added 12 and six points, respectively.
“Gusto ko lang talaga manalo. Yun lang. Wala nang iisipin pa kundi pumalo,” said Galanza. “Yun ang sabi ni coach sa amin, pumalo. Papagalitan yung di pumapalo. Kung ano yung trabaho mo sa court, gawin mo lang, and yun nga, dapat yung mindset mo ay manalo.”
After the grueling but highly rewarding campaign, the Cool Smashers want to relish their latest triumph, the franchise’s sixth championship since 2018, that likewise erased the stigma of their failed bid in the last Reinforced Conference.
“Sobrang happy po kasi nararamdan na rin po namin yung pagod kasi tatlong laro po against Petro Gazz, pero yung mindset po namin ay hindi po namin pababayaan tong game na to, kasi gusto po namin mapasaamin yung championship. Lalo na yung nangyari last year, so gusto talaga namin mabigay yung momentum sa amin ngayon,” said Galanza.
Their All-Filipino feat did give the Cool Smashers the momentum and confidence they would need for the next conference. But it would take more than a boost for the crowd favorites to complete what they had failed to achieve last year.