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Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Malabanan, PetroGazz log ‘firsts’ in inaugural Champions League

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LIPA City—Jerrili Malabanan scored the first point and PetroGazz booked the first victory over national play first-timers Baguio City Highlanders, 25-10, 25-13, 25-10, in the first-ever Philippine Champions League that kicked off at the Aquamarine Recreational Center on Saturday morning.

Malabanan, playing out of Far Eastern University, got the ball rolling in the Philippine National Volleyball Federation’s (PNVF) first major offering amid the still prevailing COVID-19 pandemic off a well-orchestrated set from Chie Saet.

Jerilli Malabanan scores the first point in the maiden season of the Philippine Champions League
Jerilli Malabanan scores the first point in the maiden season of the Philippine Champions League

The historic first point may have played out as one of those pre-pandemic days in the office for the Angels’ 5-foot-8 outside spiker, but it would be etched in stone for the PNVF which set up the bubble tournament—the first major multi-day national event by any national sports association.

“We serve volleyball and with this Champions League, we serve sports,” PNVF President Ramon “Tats” Suzara said.

The Angels’ straight-set victory was for the Lady Highlanders lessons valuable lessons learned from the Premier Volleyball League club.

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Baguio City skipper Cherry Atuban was grateful for the opportunity to play in the Champions League.

“Against PetroGazz, nanibabago kami sa court at sa weather dahil hindi kami masyadong makagalaw,” said Atuban, who together with her sister Ann have club play experience in 2016 in the defunct V-League. “Nag-enjoy kami sa game na ito.”

Highlanders coach Yul Benosa admitted that his Lady Highlanders were overwhelmed as they try to overcame jitters from playing on a high level.

“Na-amazed sila sa tournament na ito. This is the first time na sasalihan nila at this level,” Benosa said. “Na-stars truck yung mga players. They were trying na huwag ma-intimidate sa mga idols.”      

Coach Arnold Laniog reminded his Angels not to be complacent against their foes from the country’s summer capital in the inaugurals of the tournament that has Rebisco, Pitmaster Foundation Inc., Top Speed, 1Pacman Partylist, Philippine Sports Commission and Philippine Olympic Committee as platinum sponsors and F2 Logistics, Asics, PLDT, MVP Sports Foundation and Mikasa as gold sponsors and BCDA, Philippine Red Cross, Lipa City, Davies Paints and Emerald PVC Pipes, Fittings and Doors as silver sponsors with PNVF godfather, Taguig Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano, chairman of the Champions League, giving his full support.     

“Sabi ko sa mga players, may dalawang tendencies iyan, either ma-starstruck or makalaban ang mga idols nila na puwedeng i-challenge sa amin iyan na wala silang pressure,” Laniog said.

PetroGazz made it look simple with Ces Molina scoring 12 points, three on service aces. Grethcel Soltones nailed half of her eight points from the service zone, while Malabanan tossed in seven points, including two aces, for the Angels.

Saet came through with 13 excellent sets while libero Kath Arado collected 15 digs and six receptions.

Ann Atuban and Blesie Royo each had six points to lead Baguio City.

PetroGazz will have its first major test against Chery Tiggo, the reigning PVL champions which will miss the services of aces Jaja Santiago and Shaya Adorador, at 4 p.m. on Sunday.

“Yung pagiging champion, dala-dala pa rin nila kahit sino ang maipasok sa court. Kami naman, we will stick sa game plan,” said Laniog, who will face his close friend and his long-time College of Saint Benilde assistant Aaron Velez in club play anew.  

“I’m happy again na makakaharap ko si coach Aaron. Makakatapat ko siya for the second time and I’m so excited,” he added.

The games are live streamed over the PNVF official website, iWantTFC for local and international audiences, Puso Pilipinas and Smart Sports Facebook pages and YouTube channels and Gigaplay.

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