MANILA, Philippines -- KingWhale setter Liao Yi-Jen will leave the Philippines with plenty of memories, legions of new fans -- and one unexpected award from the Premier Volleyball League (PVL).
Liao earned Best Setter honors in the PVL Invitational Conference, after piloting her club to a sweep of the semifinals and eventually, a second-place finish. The playmaker averaged 6.18 excellent sets per set in four matches, and beat out the likes of local legends Rhea Dimaculangan and Jia de Guzman to the award.
The trophy was a bonus for Liao, who came into the tournament seeking to gain more experience in playing against high-level club teams.
"I completely did not expect to receive the award," Liao said, via an interpreter, after KingWhale Taipei's final match of the conference.
The Taiwanese club couldn't complete a dream run, falling to Creamline in straight sets in Sunday's gold medal match in front of 13,000 fans at the Mall of Asia Arena.
"I think every one of the setters are very good and very unique and I really learned a lot from them," Liao also said.
Liao got to match wits twice against Creamline's de Guzman, and came away with great admiration for her fellow playmaker. KingWhale had outlasted the Cool Smashers in a five-set marathon when they met in the semis, but de Guzman and Creamline reversed the outcome in the final.
De Guzman, now a five-time PVL champion with Creamline, had 19 excellent sets in the final to 16 for Liao. But the Cool Smashers had a 43-30 advantage in kills and also dominated the other skills en route to the quick win.
"[The] Creamline setter," Liao answered immediately when asked who among her opponents stood out. "She's just amazing in how she performs."
It was all love between Liao and De Guzman afterward, with the two playmakers even swapping shirts during the Cool Smashers' dinner.
"Coming here to the Philippines, I think that every single one of the teams is very strong and did very well and it really is a learning experience for us this time," Liao said of the experience they got in the PVL.
Liao was not the lone KingWhale player to come home with hardware, as Qiu Shi-Qing earned Best Libero honors.