They won’t meet till the final day of elims but this early former champion Philippine Army and powerhouse Smart have been picked as the teams likely to meet in the finals of the 10th Shakey’s V-League Open Conference unfolding tomorrow (Sunday, Aug. 18) at The Arena in San Juan.
Without undermining the composition and preparation of the six other teams – Air Force, Cagayan Province, Philippine National Police, Meralco, Navy and FEU, the battle for the league’s Second Conference crown could go Army-Smart way owing to their respective rosters loaded with stars with vast championship experience.
The Troopers, skippered by Joanne Buñag, will be bannered by the core of their 2011 champion team, led by Rachel Anne Daquis and Marietta Carolino, with league pioneers MJ Balse and Nene Bautista tapped to provide experience and poise needed in down-to-the-wire battles.
If his starting unit fails to deliver, coach Rico de Guzman can easily go to the likes of Cristina Salak, Jacqueline Alarca, Michelle Carolino, Ma. Theresa Iratay and Dahlia Cruz, Genie Sabas, Patricia Siatan-Torres, Angela Nuñag and Jovelyn Gonzaga for firepower.
Not to be outdone, Smart-Maynilad is also putting up a star-studded lineup headed by former league MVP Sue Roces and finals MVP Alyssa Valdez and perhaps the league’s top two setters – Rubie de Leon and Jem Ferrer. With shot block artist Charo Soriano. Maru Banaticla, Melissa Gohing and Mica Guliman also in the fold and upcoming Gretchel Soltones providing the exuberance of the youth, it won’t take a smart fan to point which team is capable of going all the way to the championship.
But Smart coach Roger Gorayeb has opted to downplay not only their title chances but also their strength. In fact, with a nine-player roster, the many-time champion mentor said he still needs a couple more players to beef up his squad.
“It’s just hearsay that we are strong. Army is stronger but we’ll fight to the finish,” said Gorayeb, whose wards kick off their campaign against the Far Eastern U Lady Tams in tomorrow’s inaugurals of the event sponsored by Shakey’s Pizza and backed by Mikasa and Accel.
The Army-Smart duel is set Sept. 15.
Though lacking in high-profile players, FEU will lean on its cohesion and big fighting heart as it sets out against the fancied Smart side. The Lady Tams will be led by Gyzelle Sy, Christine Agno, Bernadeth Pons, Marie Simborio, Marie Basas, Faith Torres and Genevieve Casugod along with Winonah Bagang, Samantha Dawson, Joy Palma, Louise Papa and Ilana Atienza.
Meralco and PNP clash in the 2 p.m. opener before Smart battles FEU at 4 p.m.
Meanwhile, GMA Network has renewed its partnership with the country’s premier women’s league as it telecasts the games on a delayed basis on its GMA News TV Channel 11. The Meralco-PNP match will be aired Monday while the Smart-FEU duel witll be shown Tuesday starting at 1 p.m., according to the organizing Sports Vision.