MANILA, Philippines - Sweep 16.
Cagayan displayed grace under pressure and outplayed Smart-Maynilad in the fifth set, turning what was expected to be a down-to-the-wire decider into a runaway finish, 25-16, 19-25, 25-15, 22-25, 15-7, and completing a magnificent season with a record sweep of 16 games to capture the Shakey’s V-League Season 10 Open Conference crown at the packed San Juan Arena last night.
The Rising Suns actually celebrated early, whooping it up after Smart-Maynilad’s Din-Din Santiago blasted what had looked like a long spike with the score pegged at 14-6. The point was later awarded to Smart but Cagayan went on with the bash moments later as Angeli Tabaquero uncoiled the last of her 16 kills that bounced off Lithawat Kesinee’s arms, wrapping up the thrilling 1:55-hour contest and sealing their first championship in the league sponsored by Shakey’s.
That underscored the Rising Suns’ composure, determination and teamwork that had been the trademark of their game since their piled up victories after victories from the elims to the quarters and the semis before sweeping the Net Spikers in a pair of five-setters in the finals for a first-ever sweep that served as a fitting ending to the league’s milestone 10th season.
“Teamwork carried us through,” said a teary-eyed Cagayan coach Nes Pamilar in Filipino in the din of the Rising Suns’ celebration. “I’ve been saying this all along that we’re a team that has been together for a couple of years now. The familiarity, chemistry and team-first attitude carried us to this moment.”
Cagayan’s Thai reinforcement Kannika Thipachot unloaded crisp spikes after crisp spikes and finished with a team-high 24 hits while Tabaquero, a coach at Poveda, uncorked 18 markers.
It was, however, another Thai, setter Phomla Soraya, who set the Rising Suns’ attack in motion all match with 53 excellent sets while chipping in six markers, including a pair of aces.
She later bagged the Finals MVP honors.
The Rising Suns celebrated when they thought Santiago’s kill went long, triggering a frenzied celebration.
But officials ruled it a touch ball on Aiza Maizo, keeping the Net Spikers in the game, 14-7.
Smart coach Roger Gorayeb sued for time and screamed: “Walang imposible (Nothing is impossible),” to his wards.
The Rising Suns, particularly, Tabaquero, also believed that everything is possible, including sweeping all 16 games to clinch the championship.
Tabaquero punched through the Smart defense with a powerful spike that touched Lithawat’s arms, the ball bouncing off straight to the crowd.
Pandemonium broke loose as Cagayan whooped it up at midcourt while their fans roared from the sidelines.
Cagayan was actually poised for a big celebration in the fourth but blew a 22-20 lead as Sue Roces spearheaded Smart’s fightback to steal the frame and send the match into another decider of a contest.
But the Net Spikers cracked under pressure and fell into a maze of errors in the fifth as the Rising Suns took the first three points on a Santiago mishit, a Tabaquero kill and a Smart violation.
Santiago broke the spell with her own version of an attack only to commit a service error before the lefty Maizo unloaded a crosscourt spike to make it 5-1.
Cagayan then took three of the next four points and six of the next eight with the talented Thipachot moving the Rising Suns to the championship point with one of her patented kills.
Wenneth Eulalio, Pau Soriano, Thai setter Phomia Soraya and Maizo combined for 30 markers.
Santiago, who again gained permission from mother school National U to play for Smart at the last minute, came away with 26 hits, including 23 kills, while Alyssa Valdez and Thai Lithawat Kesinee added 13 points apiece.