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Philippine volleyball returns

The year that is about to end marked a great year for Philippine volleyball despite the ongoing pandemic.

Unbeaten teams lorded over the collegiate leagues, powerhouse squads ruled the professional ranks, new amateur leagues opened shop, Filipino players made their presence felt in the international scene while the country played host to one of the sports’ biggest events.

For the first time in three years, local volleyball went full blast with the Premier Volleyball League starting off 2022 with the staging of the Open Conference from March to April.

The country’s first and only women’s professional volleyball league then held two more tournaments that drew record crowds as Covid-19 restrictions were eased.

College volleyball also returned after the University Athletic Association of the Philippines and National Collegiate Athletic Association canceled their respective seasons in early 2020.

Organizers of the defunct Philippine Superliga teamed up with Shakey’s Pizza to launch the Shakey’s Super League with its inaugural Collegiate Preseason Championship while the V-League held men’s and women’s collegiate tournaments.

The Alyssa Valdez-led Creamline had a perfect run in the PVL Open Conference, winning all of its eight outings including a sweep of Petro Gazz in the finals to reclaim the throne it ceded to Chery Tiggo the year before.

The Cool Smashers would then annex the Invitational Conference crown four months after when they took down Taiwanese team KingWhale Taipei behind the heroics of Tots Carlos and Ced Domingo, who eventually ended up with the Conference Most Valuable Player and Finals MVP awards, respectively. Carlos won her second tournament MVP after getting the same recognition in the Open Conference.

Creamline, however, blew a golden opportunity of completing a historic grand slam after falling short of advancing to the finals of the Reinforced Conference.

The Angels then successfully defended the import-laden tournament crown it won in 2019 before the pandemic shelved the contest for two years.

Meanwhile, the rookie-laden and very young but not lacking in championship experience crew of the National University Lady Bulldogs made the headlines in the UAAP – which only held the women’s tournament for Season 84.

Composed of standouts from the school’s successful high school volleyball program and first year coach Karl Dimaculangan, the Lady Bulldogs pulled a surprise when they swept the elimination round in dominating fashion – either sweeping their opponents or never losing more than one set each game – to advance to the finals outright and forcing stepladder semifinals for the first time in seven years.

Behind eventual Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player winner Bella Belen – the first to record the feat in the league, NU swept traditional title-contender De La Salle University in a lopsided series as the Lady Bulldogs ended a 65-year title drought.

Not to be outdone, College of Saint Benilde did the same feat in NCAA Season 97.

Bannered by veterans Mycah Go and Gayle Pascual, the Lady Blazers under coach Jerry Yee swept the 9-game elimination round and dropped only one set for a return ticket to the championship round since winning it all in 2016.

Saint Benilde met four-peat-seeking Arellano University in the finals. It turned into a one-sided affair as the Lady Blazers swept the Lady Chiefs in the best-of-three series without losing a frame.

Go and Pascual were hailed as tournament and Finals MVPs, respectively.

The Lady Bulldogs would then extend their reign as the country’s best college volleyball squad when they ruled the SSL, which in its first tournament made history by pitting all eight UAAP teams and 10 NCAA squads against each other.

NU faced La Salle in a one-game title match at the historic Rizal Memorial Coliseum.

But just like the UAAP, the Lady Bulldogs’ energy and firepower were just too much for the Lady Spikers to handle.

Missing the podium in the SSL, Ateneo took advantage of the absence of NU and La Salle in the V-League Women’s Collegiate Challenge to claim the title.

Veterans Faith Nisperos and Vannie Gandler spearheaded the charge of the Lady Eagles to beat the Adamson Lady Falcons in the championship series.

NU also flexed its muscle in the men’s division, winning back-to-back tournaments.

The Bulldogs shocked star-studded and Marck Espejo-bannered Cignal to reign supreme in the return of the Spikers’ Turf Open Conference after a three-year pandemic stoppage.

NU followed it up with another title conquest in the V-League Men’s Collegiate Challenge at the expense of University of Santo Tomas.

Truly, Philippine volleyball gained a lot this year.

But 2023 promises a brighter future ahead.

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