For the first time since 2017, the Creamline Cool Smashers will not be in the Premier Volleyball League (PVL) Finals.
Despite pulling off a five-set victory against winless Chery Tiggo in the last tiff of the round-robin semifinals, the two sets it dropped in that match—plus Cignal doing a Houdini act in the earlier game after being 21-24 down in the third set to force a fourth canto and getting the marginal edge needed to secure the finals berth—sealed Creamline’s doom as the Crossovers played the role of “spoilers” to the hilt and relegated the five-time league champion to its first battle for the bronze since its maiden season in 2017.
This also denied Creamline a shot at a rare “Triple Crown” as, for the first time in the league’s transition to its new identity, there was no collegiate championship. The Cool Smashers came away with triumphs in the Open Conference and the Invitationals.
It was a shocker to those who knew the implications of the two sets dropped against the taller and more defense-oriented Chery Tiggo. Most fans still celebrated the win, but were oblivious that their beloved squad had been ousted from the titular clash the moment they dropped the third set—in horrific fashion, 14-25 after losing the second set 20-25.
Now that the powerhouse has been vanquished, it will now be up to the newcomers to prove their worth against the reigning titlists.
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The Cignal HD Spikers had long been associated with the now defunct Philippine Superliga (PSL) as they were one of that league’s original members when it inaugurated in 2013.
Only one member has remained form the original squad in libero Angelique Dionela and despite many incarnations of the roster, as well as the coaching staff, it’s managed only one title—shared with the visiting Kobe Shinwa team from Japan during the 2017 Invitationals. The HD Spikers managed to make it to the Finals for the 2019 All-Filipino championship only to get swept by the juggernaut known as F2 Logistics.
Moving to the PVL in 2021 and failing to make the playoffs during the Open Conference bubble in Bacarra, Ilocos Norte, Cignal retooled and brought in veterans such as former Petro Gazz stalwarts Ces Molina, Ria Meneses and Generika skipper Angeli Araneta to beef up the line-up that already had Dionela, center Roselyn Doria and iconic winger Rachel Anne Daquis.
The acquisition of American reinforcement Tai Bierria and her eventual move to come off the bench has been paying off dividends for Coach Shaq de los Santos. Many are calling the HD Spikers a team of destiny as they seek to match their male counterparts who recently triumphed in the PNVF Champions League.
While Cignal may have the necessary tools to win their first PVL crown, the Angels have also bulked up their roster and will be armed for a serious title defense.
Petro Gazz is only one of two teams to defeat Creamline in the finals in PVL history and they achieved this feat in 2019. The only other team to do so is the aforementioned Chery Tiggo in Bacarra—when they still had Japan league sensation Jaja Santiago in their fold.
The Angels’ signings during the off-season of disbanded Sta. Lucia key pieces MJ Phillips, Jonah Sabete and floor patroller Bang Pineda apparently have more than made up for the departure of some of their original aces as only chief orchestrator Chie Saet and libero Cienne Cruz remain from the 2019 line-up.
Their strength lies in the sum of its parts as the veterans such as Saet, opposite hitter Aiza Maizo-Pontillas and celebrated wing spiker Myla Pablo often default to the young core of Phillips, setter Djanel Cheng and their 24-year-old import Lindsey Vander Weide.
With the Cool Smashers out of the way, many aficionados foresee a straight path to the title-defense for the Angels, but it might not be as straightforward as it appears.
On paper, it looks like an unpredictable match-up that has seen them split their respective encounters with Cignal winning in five sets during the preliminary round and Petro Gazz defeating the HD Spikers in the playoffs.
Cignal appeared to be fatigued in their loss to the Angels during the playoffs and the gambit of having Bierria come off the bench may be deciphered already by coach Rald Ricafort’s staff.
By the same token, however, reserve winger Gretchel Soltones has been steadily getting minutes to spell Pablo and the decision to keep Sabete on the bench could have already exposed some rotational issues in Petro Gazz’s format.
These teams only have Wednesday to rest, study the footage from yesterday’s game and get ready for the Best-Of-Three championship series at the Big Dome.
So is Cignal truly a Team of Destiny or is Petro Gazz on the cusp of creating a new dynasty?
Game 1 is on December 1 at 5:30PM.
Click here for full schedule of best-of-three championship and bronze medal series.