By John Bryan Ulanday

(Aquamarine Recreational Center Gym, Lipa, Batangas)
10 a.m. – Team Dasma Monarchs vs. MRT-Negros
1:30 p.m. – Basilan Steel Spikers vs. Go For Gold-Air Force
4 p.m. – Global Remit vs. Sabong International Spikers

LIPA CITY — Go For Gold-Air Force dodged an upset ax with a feisty 23-25, 25-23, 19-25, 25-23, 15-11 win over VNS Manileño Spikers in the Philippine National Volleyball Federation (PNVF) Champions League men’s tournament opener at the Aquamarine Recreational Center Gym here.

National team spikers Mark Alfafara (19 points), Kim Malabunga (16) and John Vic de Guzman (16) spearheaded the Aguilas’ gusty come-from-behind win from a set down for a 1-0 start in Pool A of the seven-team tilt.

Edwin Tolentino added 13 markers while Ricky Marcos (14 digs, 16 receptions) and Kim Dayandante (18 excellent sets) quarterbacked the scattered attack of the stacked team that also includes Jessie Lopez and Francis Saura.

Messrs. Alfafara, Malabunga, De Guzman, Dayandante, Lopez and Saura served as vital cogs in the historic silver 2019 Southeast Asian Games silver medal finish of the Philippine team led by Bryan Bagunas and Marck Espejo.

“We had a slow start, but I told them to relax and go back to the basics. We just trusted our system and it paid off in the end,” said coach Dante Alinsunurin, also the national team tactician.

Coming out of a two-year hiatus as a club since last playing together in the 2019 Spikers’ Turf, Go For Gold-Air Force started flat and stared at near defeat following a costly 19-25 loss in the third set.

But the chemistry and championship pedigree of the seasoned unit plus the reinforcement of Messrs. Alfafara and De Guzman from PLDT proved to be too much to handle for the young VNS squad.

Go For Gold-Air Force zoomed to a 4-1 start in the rubber set and never looked back to bag the hard-earned debut win in more than two hours.

In the second match, Jian Matthew Salarzon (18), Christian Marcelino (16), Jet Nonoy (12) and Leo Ordiales (11) joined forces as MRT-Negros gained an early lead in Pool B after fending off Sabong International Spikers, 25-22, 25-16, 21-25, 21-25, 15-12.

Charles David Absin paced Sabong International with 15 markers in a foiled comeback attempt from a 0-2 deficit.

The PNVF Champions League is backed by Rebisco, Pitmaster Foundation, Inc., Top Speed, 1Pacman Partylist, Philippine Sports Commission and Philippine Olympic Committee as platinum sponsors; F2 Logistics, Asics, PLDT, MVP Sports Foundation and Mikasa as gold sponsors; and BCDA, Philippine Red Cross, Lipa City, Davis Paint and Emerald PVC Pipes, Fittings and Doors as silver sponsors with PNVF godfather, Taguig Rep. Alan Peter S. Cayetano, chairman of the Champions League, giving his full support.