MANILA, Philippines – Petron's failure to complete a sweep turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the Blaze Spikers as they used it to fuel their drive to clinch the Philippine Superliga (PSL) Grand Prix crown last Saturday at the FilOil Flying V Centre in San Juan.
According to head coach Shaq delos Santos, they held an "open forum" following their shock loss to F2 Logistics in Game 1 of their best-of-3 title series, giving the players a chance to reflect and reestablish their priorities.
The meeting became emotional, as American imports Stephanie Niemer and Katherine Bell vowed to deliver the Blaze Spikers a second straight Grand Prix title.
They fulfilled their promise, towing Petron to a 26-24, 25-19, 23-25, 25-19 triumph over the Cargo Movers in a do-or-die Game 3 on Saturday to secure their sixth championship in the tournament.
Niemer lit up the scoreboard with 31 points, while Bell added 16 markers as the Blaze Spikers bounced back from a meltdown in the third set and fended off F2 Logistics' last-ditch rally in the fourth.
Niemer claimed the Best Scorer and MVP awards, while Bell took home Best Opposite Spiker honors. Rhea Dimaculangan earned the Best Setter trophy.
Delos Santos believes their loss in Game 1 served as a wake-up call for the Blaze Spikers, allowing them to brush off the confidence and complacency brought about by a 17-game winning streak.
"Our loss in Game 1 served as the turning point," said delos Santos, who was an assistant coach when Petron registered a 13-0 sweep of the All-Filipino Conference in 2015.
"After we lost in Game 1, we had an open forum where we allowed everybody to speak up and release everything in their hearts. It was a success. We renewed our commitment to winning and played Games 2 and 3 with hunger and intensity," he bared.
Aside from Bell, Niemer and Dimaculangan, also playing key roles in their title run were Mika Reyes, Aiza Maizo-Pontillas, Frances Molina, Remy Palma, Bernadeth Pons and libero Denden Lazaro.
Lazaro, in particular, shrugged off a bout with the flu to collect her first PSL title.
Role players Carmela Tunay, Pia Gaiser, Anne Esguerra, Chloe Cortez and Angel Legacion round up the champion squad.
Delos Santos said the eagerness and hunger of these Blaze Spikers carried them through, especially during the times that they were challenged by F2 Logistics' veteran imports, MJ Perez and Lindsay Stalzer, along with the defensive effort of Majoy Baron, Aby Maraño, and Dawn Macandili.
"They really wanted this win," said delos Santos.
"The eagerness and hunger of our imports and local players really made a difference in this series. F2 Logistics pushed us to our limit. But we didn’t roll over and submit. Instead, we fought back to capture the title," he added.
With six titles in indoor volleyball under their belts, the Blaze Spikers remain the most successful team in the league, but delos Santos made it clear they have no plans of slowing down.
"We give our 100% every conference, whether we're the reigning champions or not," he said. "We have no plans of taking it easy because we want to have a winning culture at Petron."
"So rest assured that we would do our best again to win the title in the All-Filipino. We're not yet done. We will work hard to win more titles," the coach promised.
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