Petron’s failure to come up with a sweep turned out to be a blessing in disguise as it willed it to go all out and clinch the Philippine Superliga Grand Prix title before a massive crowd late Saturday at the Filoil Flying V Centre in San Juan.
Head coach Shaq Delos Santos admitted that after absorbing a sorry loss to F2 Logistics in Game 1 of their best-of-three finals showdown, he presided an open-forum session to give the players a chance to reflect and re-establish their priorities.
The meeting became emotional with American imports Stephanie Niemer and Katherine Bell vowing to deliver to lead the Blaze Spikers to a back-to-back title in this prestigious women’s club league that is bankrolled by Asics, Mueller, Mikasa, Senoh, Team Rebel Sports, Bizooku, UCPB Gen, Cocolife, Hotel Sogo and Data Project.
Niemer and Bell fulfilled their promise as they powered the Blaze Spikers to an impressive 26-24, 25-19, 23-25, 25-19 victory in Game 3 to formally clinch their sixth title in this tourney that also has ESPN5 and 5Plus as broadcast partners.
Niemer lit up the scoreboard with 31 points while Bell chipped in 16 markers for the Blaze Spikers who bounced back from a third-set meltdown en route to winning the title.
Niemer, hard-serving Kentucky native who was considered to be part of the United States national women’s team last year, also emerged as Best Scorer and Most Valuable Player award, crowns that vindicate her from a massive disaster three years ago when she and the Blaze Spikers surrendered to Lindsay Stalzer, Ariel Usher and the Foton Tornadoes in a thrilling finals series.
Bell also took the Best Opposite Spiker diadem while Rhea Dimaculangan was named as Best Setter following the title series that featured two of the best teams in Philippine volleyball.
Still, Delos Santos believes that their loss in Game 1 fired them up, prompting them to brush off the confidence and complacency brought by their 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.”
Aside from Bell, Niemer and Dimaculangan, also playing key role in this championship march were Mika Reyes, Aiza Maizo-Pontillas, Frances Molina, Remy Palma, Bernadeth Pons and Denden Lazaro, who shrugged off flu just 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 those times when they are being challenged by the veteran experience of Maria Jose Perez and Lindsay Stalzer as well as the solid defensive effort of Majoy Baron, Aby Maraño and Dawn Macandili.
“They really wanted this win,” he said. “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.”
With six titles in indoor volleyball under their belts, the Blaze Spikers remain as the most successful team in the league.
But Delos Santos said they have no plan of slowing down.
“We give our 100 percent 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.”
2019 PSL Grand Prix Final Rank
Silver F2 Logistics
Bronze PLDT Home Fibr
4th Cignal HD
5th United Volleyball Club
8th Sta Lucia
MVP Steph Niemer
Best Scorer Steph Niemer
Best libero Dawn Macandili
Best opposite spiker (local) Aiko Urdas
Best opposite spiker (foreign) Erika Wilson
Best Setter Rhea Dimaculangan
Best middle blocker (local) Aby Maraño
Best middle blocker (foreign) Grace Lazard
Best outside spiker (local) Ara Galang
Best outside spiker (foreign) Kath Bell