THE second Premier Volleyball League season was all about Creamline and University of the Philippines.
An emerging dynasty in local club women’s volleyball loop, the Cool Smashers were simply dominant in 2018, sweeping the Reinforced and Open Conference crowns.
Playing with a lot of pride and spunk, the Lady Maroons overcame all the odds to annex the Collegiate Conference title - the Diliman-based squad's first major women's volleyball championship since 1982.
During the off-season, Creamline retooled its roster by acquiring Michele Gumabao, Melissa Gohing and a solid middle in Risa Sato to support veterans Alyssa Valdez, Jema Galanza, Pau Soriano and Jia Morado.
Add Thai import Kuttika Kaepwin and American reinforcement Laura Schaudt to the mix, the build-up was a success, as the Cool Smashers rebounded from a couple of finishes last year by topping the Reinforced Conference last July.
“I think this first championship will always be the most memorable or stepping stone for us to be more inspired and motivated as we go for our bigger goals as a team,” said Valdez after leading Creamline to a sweep of PayMaya in the Finals.
A winner many times over, during her collegiate days and in the defunct V-League Reinforced Conference in 2015, Valdez considers her triumph with the Cool Smashers the turning point in her career.
“I really don’t know but it feels so good winning our championship this conference,” said Valdez.
“I think the pressure was on us to win as a team and of course, on the management. Because winning a championship means you have to improve as a team,” she added. “Getting the first win, it’s really tough. And I believe it would get tougher in our next attempt since we also have to challenge ourselves if we can still improve and what would motivate us to play our best and win each game.”
Earlier this month, the Cool Smashers gave coach Tai Bundit a fitting send-off by winning the Open Conference championship to cap a banner year. Creamline made quick work of an overachieving Ateneo-Motolite squad in the Finals.
Through their twin championships, not to mention in their UAAP triumphs, Valdez credited Bundit for his dedication and motivation that brought out the best in them.
“He deserved a great exit, he deserved nothing but the best,” said Valdez of her Thai mentor, whose coaching style altered the local volleyball landscape late in 2013, steering the Lady Eagles to back-to-back UAAP crowns. "Definitely mami-miss namin siya."
Midway in the PVL season, UP did the improbable possible in winning the Collegiate Conference championship.
The Lady Maroons entered the mid-season tournament without injured ace hitter Tots Carlos and looked fatigued, having competing non-stop right after their failed UAAP Season 80 campaign.
But UP just got the job done - stunning erstwhile undefeated Adamson as the fourth-ranked team in the Final Four and swept traditional power Far Eastern University in the best-of-three Finals.
The hard-fighting Lady Maroons won't just roll over and die even though the Lady Tamaraws were two points away from forcing a Game 3 - thanks to Isa Molde and Ayel Estrañero.
“She has been my MVP since we started playing,” said Lady Maroons mentor Godfrey Okumu on Molde.
Molde, however, deflected the praise, as the Cebu native credited her teammates for a job well done.
A revelation for the Lady Maroons was Rosie Rosier, who filling in for Carlos, responded to the challenge given to her by Okumu and shone in their Game 1 win, while opposite hitter Marian Buitre and middle blocker Aie Gannaban were solid in their respective positions.
Then there's Estrañero, the graduating setter who was glue that stuck the team together when the going gets tough.
UP is definitely eyeing for the bigger prize - this time by ending a long 36-year drought in the UAAP come February next year.
Former league MVP Myla Pablo has linked up with newcomer Motolite after an abbreviated stint with Pocari Sweat with the other squads also shoring up their respective lineups in time for the next battle.