MANILA, Philippines – After breaking the Water Defenders' hearts in the finals of the PVL Reinforced Conference two months ago, the Pocari Sweat Lady Warriors have struggled every time they play Bali Pure in the league's second conference.
Pocari Sweat outlasted Bali Pure in three games in the PVL Reinforced Conference finals for their third straight championship, with their powerful imports conspiring with ace spiker Myla Pablo to turn back the younger Water Defenders.
In the Open Conference, however, the Lady Warriors have not only struggled against Bali Pure, they have not even taken a set off the Water Defenders.
Bali Pure defeated Pocari Sweat, 25-21, 25-16, 25-23, in the elimination round last July 30 to clinch their appearance in the semifinals. The Water Defenders went on to upset top-seeded Creamline in the Final 4, while the Lady Warriors took down the Air Force Lady Jet Spikers in their own semis series.
Game 1 of their best-of-3 Finals series went the way their elimination round meeting did. Behind a balanced effort from their troika of young spikers, Bali Pure stunned the defending champions, 25-22, 25-18, 25-22.
Pablo, who before the game was named Open Conference MVP, struggled to explain their woes whenever they played against the Water Defenders.
"Every time kalaban namin ang Bali Pure, nawawalan kami ng receive, blocking. Hindi namin ma-maintain talaga," said Pablo, who managed only nine points against the Water Defenders.
"Hindi ko lang alam. Hindi ko maintindihan ang nangyayari sa amin pag kalaban namin ang Bali Pure," she added.
[Every time we play against Bali Pure, we can't receive or block. We can't maintain our performance. I don't know. I just don't understand what happens to us whenever we play Bali Pure.]
Pablo believes that their struggle is more mental than physical. Against the Water Defenders, they lose focus and confidence, for reasons that she cannot explain.
"Parang lagi kaming tulala [We're always out of focus]," she said.
What makes their issues more worrisome is that the Lady Warriors have been practicing well. According to Pablo, their first ball, blocking patterns, and overall on-court movement are all on-point during their training sessions. The problem is that they cannot carry it over to the actual competition.
"Sa game, hindi namin ma-apply [We can't apply what we do in practice to our game]," Pablo rued.
However, not all is lost. Bali Pure still has to win Game 2 in order to secure its maiden title in the Premier Volleyball League, and Pocari Sweat has proven over the course of the conference that it is capable of clawing its way out of tight spots.
After all, the Lady Warriors also lost Game 1 of their semifinals series against the Lady Jet Spikers, and were down two sets in the do-or-die Game 3 before regrouping in spectacular fashion.
"Normal po sa amin na lagi kami ang naghahabol, lagi kaming nahihirapan," said Pablo.
"Sabi nga ni Coach Rico (de Guzman), 'yung bida laging talo (sa umpisa), pero sa dulo, ikaw ang panalo. 'Yun lang ang (iniisip namin)," she added. "Kailangan, lumaban tayo. Nasa finals na eh. Kailangan sa finals, pataas na ang performance mo."
[It's normal for us to play catch-up. As Coach Rico said, the protagonist always loses in the beginning, but wins in the end. That's what we're focusing on. But we need to fight. We're in the finals, and we have to perform at a high level.]
For more sports coverage, visit the ABS-CBN Sports website.