MANILA, Philippines -- Even without superstar Alyssa Valdez, the Creamline Cool Smashers still got off to a strong start in the 2023 Premier Volleyball League (PVL) All-Filipino Conference.
Four players reached double-digits for the Cool Smashers in their 25-18, 25-20, 25-22 sweep of Petro Gazz on Saturday night at the Araneta Coliseum. Jia de Guzman earned Player of the Match honors after tossing 27 excellent sets, as Creamline registered a 45-33 advantage in kills.
It made for an impressive start to Creamline's defense of their crown, even as they will have to play without Valdez for the foreseeable future. The veteran open spiker is still recovering from a knee injury that she sustained in their final match of the Reinforced Conference in December.
"Kahit naman sinong player dun sa Creamline, iisa lang 'yung ginagawa. So, kahit sino 'yung ipasok, alam naman nila 'yung gagawin nila, kasi mga leader din naman sila," said Creamline coach Sherwin Meneses. "'Yung sistema naman, isa lang ang ginagawa."
Creamline built a big lead in the opening set before withstanding a late rally by the Gazz Angels. In the second and third frames, they out-played Petro Gazz in the closing stretch, while getting big hits from the likes of Ced Domingo and Michele Gumabao.
Gumabao and Domingo each had 13 points, while Tots Carlos had 11 and Jeanette Panaga scored 10, including four blocks. Meneses was able to give playing time to Lorie Bernardo and Rose Vargas in the opening set as well.
For the Creamline coach, Valdez's absence is a chance for his other players to show what they can do. He stresses that his first and second units train the same way, and so inserting his relievers into the starting line-up is a non-issue.
"Kung anong position mo, parehas naman ang ginagawa ng nasa bench. So hindi na mahirap mag-ano, mag-adjust," he explained.
Gumabao was elevated to the starting line-up as Creamline's opposite spiker after Valdez's injury, while Carlos moved into the open spiker position. It was a transition that the Cool Smashers dealt with comfortably.
"Lahat ng position tina-try naming aralin," said Gumabao. "Ang dami naman din naming tao, so the reason why hindi rin naman kami nag-palit ng line-up, and may tiwala sa amin 'yung mga coaches namin is because andoon naman 'yung support din talaga from the second six."
"So kahit sino talaga ang ipasok, yun naman 'yung training namin. Lahat naman binibigyan ng chance nila coach," she added.
The Cool Smashers hope to continue to play at a high level as they wait for Valdez to make a full recovery.
"Ino-offer din namin 'to kay Ly, since hindi pa siya makabalik. Ayaw din namin na ma-stress siya, bilisan niya 'yung pagbalik," Gumabao said.