Cool Smashers, Angels begin Finals rematch

Creamline’s Jema Galanza goes for a down-the-line hit against Petro Gazz blockers Aiza Maizo-Pontillas and Des Clemente in the Premier Volleyball League (PVL) All-Filipino Conference on Feb. 4, 2023, at the Araneta Coliseum. PVL PHOTO

DEFENDING champ Creamline and Petro Gazz begin their Finals rematch in the 2023 PVL All-Filipino Conference Big Dance on Sunday, March 26, at the Mall of Asia Arena.

Game One of the best-of-3 series is set at 6:30 p.m., succeeding the Game One of the battle for bronze best-of-3 series between PLDT and F2 Logistics at 4 p.m.

This is the third installment of the Cool Smashers and Angels finals clash in an all-local tournament, with the former winning the first two in the 2019 and 2022 editions when the All-Filipino Conference was still carrying the Open Conference name.

Petro Gazz got one against Creamline albeit it happened in the 2019 Reinforced Conference. That being said, the Cool Smashers and the Angels are actually facing each other in a Finals setting for the fourth time overall.

“It will be a matchup between seniors [players],” Cool Smashers head coach Sherwin Meneses said in jest. “It would be a good fight because Creamline and Petro Gazz are always facing each other in the Finals. It will be the third Finals that I will be facing them [the Angels] as head coach of the team [Creamline].”

Creamline swept the F2 Logistics, 2-0, in their best-of-3 semifinals series to earn the first Finals ticket and make their fifth straight All-Filipino Conference finals appearance.

The Cool Smashers dispatched the Cargo Movers, the only team they've lost to this conference, in Game Two, 25-22, 25-23, 25-16, on March 21 to sweep the series.

“We always prioritize the routine of our training. It doesn't matter who we're facing, we'll always put a premium on our training, to apply it in the game and not forget about it,” said Meneses.

Meneses said that Creamline still doesn't know whether Creamline star Alyssa Valdez, who hasn't played since incurring a knee injury in last year's Reinforced Conference, will finally suit up in the Finals. Valdez's return to action depends on the approval of the teams' doctors.

Valdez's absence at this conference was hardly felt by Creamline, though, as wing spikers Tots Carlos, Michelle Gumbao and Jema Galanza have been taking their turns in leading the Cool Smashers. That and Creamline also benefited from the stellar setting of Jia de Guzman and solid play by middle blockers Ced Domingo and Jeanette Panaga.

Opposite them are MJ Phillips, Grethcel Soltones, Aiza Pontillas, Jonah Sabete and Djanel Cheng, who joined hands in fueling Petro Gazz, the Reinforced Conference champ last year, to another finals appearance despite losing star Myla Pablo and coach Rald Ricafort to F2 and PLDT, respectively, during the offseason.

The Angels booted out the PLDT High Speed Hitters, 2-1, after winning in Game Three of their semis series, 25-17, 25-23, 25-15, on March 23 to barge back to the Finals, their first under new head coach Oliver Almadro, who also reached the PVL Big Dance for the first time.

“I didn't expect to be in the Finals right away. I'm in the finals right away with this team. It's a big blessing,” said ex-Choco Mucho head coach Almadro, who got emotional talking about his first PVL finals appearance.

“Everybody wants to be in this position, and many teams will underestimate us. But we will show the performance, it will show for itself how far the Lord will take us. What strength, what might the Lord give us, we will just accept it and show it to the people that we are a team, and we are one. We have one goal to reach the destination so this is really a process and journey for us, so, we really thank the Petro Gazz family for trusting in us.”

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