Chery Tiggo braces for its biggest challenge when it puts its unblemished record on the line against equally unbeaten Creamline in the Premier Volleyball League Reinforced Conference at the Sta. Rosa Sports Complex in Laguna on Saturday.
In what could be a preview of a possible Finals showdown, Chery Tiggo head coach Clarence Esteban sees the match as a chess game between him and Cool Smashers head coach Sherwin Meneses.
“It will be a game of momentum. We must quickly seize that momentum for us to win,” he said.
The Crossovers, who are already assured of a seat in the round robin semifinals with a perfect 5-0 win-loss record, are sure to face a tough battle as Creamline seeks to also advance in the next round.
Sporting a 4-0 slate, the Cool Smashers just need to hurdle Chery Tiggo in the 5:30 p.m. duel to book a Final Four ticket.
“For sure, both teams will come well-prepared for this match. We are both coming off a long break,” Esteban said.
Chery Tiggo, which defeated Creamline in an epic three-game Finals series in the 2021 Open Conference, outlasted Army, 22-25, 25-18, 25-27, 25-18, 15-12, last 27 October to clinch the first semis berth.
Before its latest victim, Chery Tiggo, which is on a redemption bid after mediocre finishes in the Open and Invitational conferences this season, defeated F2 Logistics, Cignal, Akari and Choco Mucho.
The Cool Smashers, on the other hand, collected victories over PLDT, Petro Gazz, Cignal and Akari.
“We have plotted a good strategy against Creamline,” Esteban said. “Actually, skills-wise I think we’re equal and we have the same pieces.”
Despite missing the services of its main gunner Jaja Santiago, who is currently in her fifth season in the Japan V.League with the Saitama Ageo Medics, the Crossovers are not short of firepower with its locals stepping up to help defense-oriented Montenegrin import Jelena Cvijovic.
Mylene Paat is currently the leading scorer among locals — fourth overall — with an average of 20.4 points per game. She also leads the league in spiking efficiency with 39.83 percent success rate.
Czarina Carandang, meanwhile, is a big revelation in the season-ending conference after averaging 12.6 points per game while EJ Laure has been solid on both offense and floor defense.
Cvijovic may not be as flashy on offense compared to other reinforcements but her norms of 12.6 points per outing and an impressive 39.58 percent reception efficiency have helped the team sustain its winning roll.
However, the Crossovers will have to deal with a star-studded Creamline squad led by Turkish import Yeliz Basa, Alyssa Valdez, Jema Galanza, Ced Domingo and top playmaker Jia Morado.
The Cool Smashers are leading the league on digs and reception as well as in setting plays.
Challenges that Esteban and Cherry Tiggo need to solve in their marquee showdown.
“It will be a tough game for sure. Creamline is a good team. We have to prepare well,” Cvijovic said.