MANILA, Philippines - A tested team hopes to cap its imposing campaign while a newcomer tries to punctuate a remarkable stint, guaranteeing a slam-bang finale in the Shakey’s V-League Open today at the Ninoy Aquino Stadium.
The top seeded Sandugo-San Sebastian, bannered by the league’s top scorer Jeng Bualee, stakes its reputation and record against a Cagayan Valley-Perpetual Help squad that has defied the odds to make a run for the championship on its very first try.
The opener of the best-of-three series is at 4 p.m. with Lady Stags, who dropped just one game from the elims to the Final Four, raring to re-assert their mastery over the Rising Suns, whom they beat twice in the qualifiers.
But Cagayan has shown its mettle as a worthy title contender, sweeping no less than last year’s champion Army, including a thrilling five-setter, 17-25, 25-15, 24-26, 25-18, 15-7, late Friday.
In contrast, Sandugo had a cruise to the finals, sweeping an undermanned Ateneo in their own side of the Final Four series in the league sponsored by Shakey's Pizza.
But Sandugo coach Roger Gorayeb expects nothing but a dogfight in the finals, saying "whoever we’ll face in the finals, it's going to be tough because both (Cagayan and Army) are strong teams."
The Rising Suns proved to be tougher with Thai Sutadta Chuewulim stepping up to lead the team past the Troopers with a 20-hit performance Friday. She also drew solid back-up from Sandra delos Santos, Joy Cases, Honey Tubino and fellow Thai Kunbang Pornpimol, who combined for 54 markers.
But the Lady Stags, chasing their second championship in the league organized by Sports Vision and backed by Mikasa and Accel after ruling the 2008 second conference, also boast of a slew of hitters ready to explode anytime, including former MVPs Nene Bautista and Suzanne Roces, Angela Benting, Joy Benito and Thai Utaiwan Kaensing.
That should make the series doubly interesting with Game One expected to go down-to-the-wire between the league’s most fancied and top setting team (Sandugo-SSC) and the No. 1 spiking, blocking, serving and receiving squad (Cagayan).
Meanwhile, the league will also honor the Open’s top performers in rites after the Army-Ateneo contest for third place honors at 2 p.m.