By Jerome Lagunzad
Reaching the Promised Land is nothing new for celebrated tactician Roger Gorayeb. In fact, he’s already been there more than 20 times – be it on the collegiate ranks or semi-professional tournaments.
But his latest trip to the ultimate destination – courtesy of BaliPure’s breakthrough title run in the 2017 Premier Volleyball League Open Conference – is quite special.
“We almost didn’t make it to the semis,” Gorayeb recalled, referring to how the Water Defenders staved off an early exit at the expense of fierce rival Pocari Sweat in the final day of eliminations barely three weeks ago while clinching the fourth and final playoff spot.
After heaving a big sigh of relief, BaliPure had its back pushed against the wall anew by top-ranked Creamline after dropping the opener of their best-of-three semifinal series.
Instead of being disheartened, the Water Defenders dug deep and found the right formula to overhaul a virtual twice-to-beat advantage enjoyed by the Cool Smashers, who played minus superstar Alyssa Valdez who’s on loan to the national team in the Asian Seniors Championships.
“After we lost Game 1 (in the semis), the girls persevered,” stressed Gorayeb. “From then on, they showed great character.”
Indeed. Even against a favored Lady Warriors side raring to reassert their dominance over the Water Defenders and build what could be a new volleyball dynasty following their impressive conquest of the season-opening Reinforced Conference last June.
Buoyed by a newfound confidence, BaliPure gave Pocari Sweat a perfect dose of its own medicine by pulling off a straight-sets victory in the opener last Saturday and, in the process, spoiling the grand coronation of Lady Warriors star Myla Pablo as the tournament MVP for the first time.
Then ace hitter Grethcel Soltones, the last original member of the founding BaliPure team last year, flashed her usual form in their title-clinching 25-20, 19-25, 25-23, 26-24 victory in Game 2 last Wednesday night.
“Sabi ni coach, hindi naman sa kanya manggagaling ‘yung puso mo sa paglalaro. Lagi niyang sinasabi, ‘Depende na lang sa’yo kung makikinig ka,’” shared the former San Sebastian star who waxed hot with 21 points, built around 17 hits, three services and a block, on the way to claiming the Finals MVP honors.
“Hindi biro ‘yung pinagdaanan namin,” added Soltones, 21, a three-time NCAA MVP winner who also clinched her first team title since the 2015 Reinforced Conference in the Shakey’s V-League, the precursor of PVL.
Aside from bagging the franchise’s first-ever crown, BaliPure also earned some measure of revenge against Pocari Sweat. But that’s the least of Gorayeb’s concerns.