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Pocari, BaliPure battle for PVL Open Conference crown

BaliPure and Pocari Sweat open their rematch on Saturday. Arvin Lim, ABS-CBN Sports.

Games today
10 a.m. – Air Force vs Sta. Elena (men’s for 3rd)
1 p.m. – Cignal TV vs Mega Builders (men’s for crown)
4 p.m. – Creamline vs Air Force (women’s for 3rd)
6:30 p.m. – BaliPure vs Pocari Sweat (women’s for crown)

MANILA, Philippines – Almost two months after they engaged in a three-game war for the Premier Volleyball League’s Reinforced Conference title, the Pocari Sweat Lady Warriors and the BaliPure Water Defenders are facing off in the championship round once more.

This time, Pocari and BaliPure contest the Open Conference crown, with Game 1 of the best-of-3 finals series set at FilOil Flying V Centre in San Juan on Saturday.

The Lady Warriors triumphed in the Reinforced Conference, rallying from a set down in the deciding third game to repulse the Water Defenders for the team’s third straight title since joining the league last year.

Game 1 opens at 6:30 p.m.

Air Force and Creamline, meanwhile, also open their own series for third place at 4 p.m., after which the league will honor the conference’s top performers in a brief ceremony.

Pocari is upbeat of its chances for a repeat, but the Water Defenders are all fired up to claim their maiden title in the league.

“I don’t look at it as a rematch. We’ll just go out there and play our best,” said BaliPure coach Roger Gorayeb. “But it’s a different feeling if you play in the championship, so I will just rely on their aggressiveness and teamwork.”

Grethcel Soltones, Risa Sato, Aiko Urdas, Jerrili Malabanan, ace setter Jasmine Nabor and libero Lizlee Ann Pantone will be Gorayeb’s main weapons against a Pocari side led by power hitter Myla Pablo, Jeanette Panaga, Desiree Dadang, Jessey de Leon, Elaine Kasilag, new star Heather Guino-o, playmaker Gyzelle Sy and libero Melissa Gohing.

The road to the finals was bumpy for the Lady Warriors, but they overcame all challenges – including a difficult semis series against the Hair Fairy Air Force Lady Jet Spikers.

They groped for form in the elims, needed to toughen up in the quarters then rebounded from two sets down and saved two match points in their rubber match to frustrate the Lady Jet Spikers for the first finals slot.

In all their struggles, new coach Rico de Guzman kept the faith in his wards, who have responded with one big game after the other to move two wins away from nailing another championship.

Pablo, fully recovered from an injury that slowed her down late in the elims, has been playing to her full potential the last few games while the rest have been dishing out solid support that has lined up the Lady Warriors’ for another title crack.

Panaga, Dadang, Kasilag, de Leon and Gyzelle Sy have been providing able backup to Pablo while de Guzman turned Guino-o into an instant star when the former FEU mainstay delivered clutch hits and anchored the team’s come-from-behind victory over the Jet Spikers.

“If you want to win, you also have to gamble,” said de Guzman, referring to his decision to field in Guino-o for Kasilag in the crucial stretch of Game 3. Guino-o scored 14 hits, including key attack points in the third and fifth sets.

In the finals, while both teams will try to spring a surprise or two to startle the other side’s patterns, it will still boil down to their key players at crunchtime with Pablo and Soltones tipped to lead their respective team’s title drive.

For more sports coverage, visit the ABS-CBN Sports website.

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