THE Petron Blaze Spikers completed their return to the top of the Philippine Superliga (PSL) Grand Prix after exacting payback on erstwhile champions F2 Logistics Cargo Movers in their tightly fought best-of-three final series.
Winning in four sets, 25-19, 25-20, 22-25 and 25-18, in their sudden-death Game Three on Saturday, May 5, Petron got its hands on the Grand Prix trophy anew, the first time since 2014, and exorcised the ghost of its finals failure last season when it blew a 1-0 series lead and eventually lost to F2 Logistics in three games.
The championship conquest was a culmination for the Blaze Spikers of what was a tournament marked by bumps along the away.
One such obstacle was their sudden change of import as the knockout round opened after original reinforcement Hillary Hurley went down with an ankle injury.
In came Katherine Bell, who joined forces with Lindsay Stalzer and libero Yuri Fukuda as the team’s imports.
Ms. Bell proved herself up to the challenge in just short notice, having her game complement the team’s system under coach Shaq Delos Santos and the play of Petron’s local crew that includes Rhea Dimaculangan, Aiza Maizo-Pontillas, Frances Molina, Carmela Tunay, Mika Reyes and Remy Palma.
The former University of Texas standout played big in the decider, finishing with 28 points, 25 off kills and three blocks, to lead her team while Ms. Stalzer had 24 points.
For her steady play all throughout the Grand Prix, meanwhile, Ms. Stalzer was adjudged most valuable player, the second time she has done so in the PSL.
Having experienced the agony of losing last year to claiming the title all together this time around, Ms. Stalzer said she feels a lot of sense of accomplishment and that she is happy for her team.
“Of course, it feels amazing. Last season left a bitter taste in my mouth. So, it’s so awesome when you set a goal and you work towards that goal every single day and it finally paid off. It’s a great feeling for all of us,” the league MVP said immediately after their victory at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The same fulfillment was shared by Petron coach Delos Santos, who described what they had done as the team wanting to really go back to the top and working hard for it.
“After three conferences of the Grand Prix, finally we made it,” said Mr. Delos Santos.
“I don’t know what to say, I don’t know how to explain this feeling. I’m just so happy that we finally achieved our goal and took home the crown. Girls, we finished our business. Good job,” the elated coach added.
Meanwhile, also handed out during the last day of the PSL Grand Prix were the top individual honors led by the MVP award to Ms. Stalzer.
Joining the Petron star in the honor roll were Sara Klisura of Cocolife (best spiker), MJ Perez of F2 Logistics (second best spiker), Aby Maraño of F2 Logistics (best middle blocker) and Mika Reyes of Petron (second best middle blocker).
Kim Fajardo of F2 Logistics (best setter), Elizabeth Wendel of Foton (first best opposite spiker), Kennedy Bryan of F2 Logistics (second best opposite spiker), Minami Yoshioka of F2 Logistics (first best libero) and Kacca Vukomanovic of Foton (second best libero).
Next for the PSL, whose matches are aired over ESPN5, is the All-Filipino tournament. — Michael Angelo S. Murillo