MANILA, Philippines -- The Creamline Cool Smashers got a huge lift from their fans on Monday, when they outlasted the Chery Tiggo Crossovers in the quarterfinals of the Premier Volleyball League Open Conference.
Fans were allowed to watch in person at the Filoil Flying V Centre in San Juan on Monday, the first time since 2020 that volleyball games were played in front of a live audience.
And the Cool Smashers relished the support that they got from their "Seventh Man," who made their presence felt after Creamline dropped the third set against the defending champions.
"I think nagbigay din talaga sila ng confidence sa amin, and sobrang na-miss din talaga namin sila," said Creamline captain Alyssa Valdez. "Nabigyan nila kami ng energy to keep on pushing, lalo na noong fourth set."
The Cool Smashers were two points away from sweeping the Crossovers as they took a 23-20 lead in the third. But they fell short, with Chery Tiggo scoring five consecutive points as EJ Laure took charge in the clutch.
"Siyempre, mada-down ka talaga," said Valdez. "'Yung momentum, nasa amin na noong third set, medyo naging, medyo kinapos talaga."
"So noong fourth set, with their help, napakasarap sa pakiramdam na talagang, we're getting there also," she added. "And talagang nag-eenjoy 'yung mga fans, and we really love to see them."
The Cool Smashers eventually came away with a 25-18, 25-14, 23-25, 25-19 triumph, allowing them to advance to the best-of-three semifinals. Creamline had been armed with a twice-to-beat advantage after sweeping Pool B in the group phase.
The PVL played its 2021 Open Conference in a bubble in Ilocos Norte, and elimination round games of this year's tournament were also played behind closed doors at the Paco Arena.
Valdez acknowledged that playing in front of big crowds still causes some anxiety, given the on-going COVID-19 pandemic. But she is assured by the strict protocols implemented by the league and the venue, as only fully vaccinated individuals are allowed entry. Teams, league staff and media also undergo antigen tests every game day.
"Seeing people, siyempre, at the end of the day, may anxiety pa rin, but we welcome everyone, 'di ba," said Valdez. "'Yung protocols naman, we're doing it, so we're just really happy na nage-enjoy din tayong lahat, nage-enjoy sila."
"And sports is something that unites people, 'di ba? So we're just so happy na makita silang andito rin," she added.
Nearly 2,300 fans watched the Creamline-Chery Tiggo game on Monday, and another capacity crowd is expected on Tuesday as well. Tickets will be sold at the San Juan venue starting 11:00 a.m.