Rookie team Iriga City passed its first major test with flying colors as they survived a gritty Sta. Lucia Realty 15-25, 25-20, 22-25, 25-16, 15-13, in the Chooks to Go-Philippine Superliga (PSL) Grand Prix Oct 24 at the Filoil Flying V Centre in San Juan.
Serbian reinforcement Tamara Kmezic was impressive down the stretch, carrying the Lady Oragons to their first ever victory in this prestigious club tourney bankrolled by Cignal, Mikasa, Senoh, Mueller, Grand Sport, Rebisco, Island Rose, Cloudfone, UCPB Gen and Asics.
Kmezic, league’s tallest import at 6-foot-6 was simply unstoppable firing 26 kills for a total of conference-high 28 points while local star Grethcel Soltones and Japanese reinforcement Saama Miyagawa chipped in 15 and 10 markers.
But more than anything else, it was Kmezic’s intimidating presence on both ends that did the damage for the Lady Oragons in the crucial moment of the fifth set.
“Sinabi ko sa kanila na kung mahina ang loob nyo, talo na tayo. So dapat lumaban tayo hanggang sa dulo,” said Iriga City coach Parley Tupaz, whose wards crawled from a deep 5-11 hole in the fifth set en route to posting the morale-boosting victory in this tourney that has ESPN5 as official broadcast partner.
“Siguro lucky lang. Pero step by step lang. Ganun talaga eh since first-timer kami tingin sa amin mababa lang. Kung sa sundalo ikaw ang lowest kasi naguumpisa ka pa lang naman.”
True enough, luck was on the Lady Oragons’ side as Kmezic and Shyrra Cabriana engineered an oozing rally that left the Lady Realtors grasping for form.
After trailing by as much as six in the fifth set, 5-11, Cabriana unloaded a bomb from the service box to make it 8-11 before Kmezic delivered back-to-back kills to inch closer, 10-11.
MJ Philips then committed an attack error in the ensuing play before Kmezic knocked down a kill and a block followed by another ace by Cabriana to give the Lady Oragons the match point, 14-11.
“Sinabi ko kay (Kmezic) ‘to spike hard.’ Ang laki nya eh. Pero baka naga-adjust pa sya kasi iba naman ang laro ng Asian sa European,” Tupaz said.
Philips fired 21 kills, three blocks and two aces for 26 points while Canadian reinforcement Marisa Field had 15 markers for the Lady Realtors, who fell short despite the presence of new head coach Jerry Yee.
Meanwhile, Generika-Ayala went through the wringer before escaping Cocolife, 25-11, 23-25, 16-25, 25-13, 15-9, in the second match.
Darlene Ramdin of Trinidad and Tobago came through with some clutch hits to lead the Lifesavers to their first victory following a sorry straight-set loss to Petron in the opener.
Ramdin erupted for 23 kills and two blocks to finish with 25 points while fellow import Katarina Pilepic of Croatia also had 25 markers for Generika-Ayala who were locked in an 8-8 tie with the Asset Managers in the fifth set before stepping on the gas and punching the win.
“If everybody is enjoying the game, having fun, gumaganda ang movement and the rest will follow,” said Generika-Ayala head coach Francis Vicente.
“I just told the setter to give it to Darlene. Good thing she delivered.”
Taylor Milton had 18 points while Tai Manu-Olevao finished with 15 markers for the Asset Managers, who welcomed the return of seasoned setter Tina Salak on a sour note.
Schedule of upcoming games
4:15pm Sta Lucia vs Petron
7pm Generika-Ayala vs Cignal
Oct 28 Opening ceremony and games are FREE!
3pm Meet and greet with Karch Kiraly
4pm Opening Ceremony
4:30pm Cocolife vs Foton
6:30pm Petron vs Cignal
2pm Foton vs Iriga
4:15pm UST vs Cocolife
6pm F2 Logistics vs Sta Lucia