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Angels, HD Spikers open title series

Games Thursday:

(Smart Araneta Coliseum)

2:30 p.m. – Creamline vs Chery Tiggo

5:30 p.m. – Cignal vs Petro Gazz

A new rivalry is set to emerge when reigning champion Petro Gazz and Cignal open their Premier Volleyball League Reinforced Conference title series on Thursday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

Game 1 of their best-of-three finals showdown is set at 5:30 p.m. with neither the HD Spikers nor the Angels holding a distinct advantage in this furious battle of power, blocking and gambits that will herald a new league rivalry.

In the first game at 2:30 p.m., Creamline and Chery Tiggo are tipped to go all out as they clash in Game 1 of their best-of-three encounter that will determine who will emerge with the bronze medal in the country’s first and only professional women’s volleyball league.

Despite bowing to the Angeles in four sets last Tuesday, the HD Spikers still clinched the finals berth through the virtue of having the highest sets ratio with seven set wins against four losses.

Few hours later, the Angels made their way into the championship round as the Crossovers, who were out of finals contention, dragged the Cool Smashers into a five-set battle to shatter their dream of completing a rare grand slam.

Against the HD Spikers, Lindsey Vander Weide ran wild, posting 30 points while powering the Angels during a crucial rally in the fourth set with a 5-0 spurt to erect a 20-15 lead.

Cignal import Tai Bierria trimmed the deficit to make it a two-point game, 21-19, but Petro Gazz scored four straight points capped by the 30th point by the American import to seal the victory.

Petro Gazz coach Rald Ricafort said the HD Spikers have what it takes to steal the crown that they won in 2019 when they had imports Wilma Salas of Cuba and Janisa Johnson of the United States, who emerged as Most Valuable Player of the finals.

“I am happy over this new rivalry because we are able to show what we’re capable of doing,” said Ricafort, bracing for an intense chess match against a multi-titled and former national team mentor in Shaq Delos Santos of Cignal.

“I hope we can maximize our performance and show what we can do. This is going to be a long series. I’m sure it will go the distance.”

He also vowed his wards will make the most of their chances aided by a rival team.

“We’ll also makes sure that we make the most of this finals encounter because this is the challenge that was given to us,” he said shortly after formalizing their entry to the finals brought by the five-set duel between Creamline and Chery Tiggo.

But Cignal will be marching into the series with fire in its eyes.

After all, following a glorious stint in the defunct Philippine Superliga, the HD Spikers are still searching for that breakthrough title following a pair of third-place finishes in the PVL.

Bierria said the battle is still far from over.

“We just have to keep working, keep getting better,” said Tai Bierria, whose ever-improving game underscored the HD Spikers’ steady rise to the top in a conference marked by twist and turns.

The New Orleans native has embraced her role coming off the bench, almost always subbing late in the first set then picking up her game in the next before taking over at the finish.

Her four-point binge to spike Cignal’s rise from the brink in the third set, stave off a shutout loss to Petro Gazz and secure the HD Spikers’ finals stint was the latest in Bierria’s growing list of endgame exploits.

Ces Molina and Rachel Anne Daquis hope to provide the poise and firepower along with Roselyn Doria, Chay Troncoso and Angeli Araneta while Riri Meneses gear up for fierce duel in the middle with MJ Phillips and ace setter and top server Gel Cayuna primes up against counterpart Djanel Cheng in a clash of two of the league’s top playmakers.

But Vander Weide also boasts of an explosive local support eager and ready to keep the crown, including Myla Pablo, Grethcel Soltones, Aiza Pontillas, Remy Palma, Nicole Tiamzon, Jonah Sabete, Marianne Buitre and Phillips.

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