What was expected to be a rout turned into a furious battle as F2 Logistics had to unleash a strong finishing kick before prevailing over Cignal in the playoffs of the 2016 Philippine Superliga (PSL) Grand Prix over the weekend at the Philsports Arena in Pasig City.
The match was highly crucial.
After finishing the preliminaries with seven wins and three losses, the Cargo Movers missed the bus headed to the semifinals and sent them to a head-on collision with the HD Spikers — a team that finished with only a single victory in the 10-game classification phase.
Imports Sydney Kemper and Hayley Spelman showed the way with 18 and 17 markers, respectively, while Ara Galang finished the night with 13 points for the Cargo Movers, who made a strong rebound in the deciding set after seeing the HD Spikers gain some measure of pride in the third set.
With that, the Cargo Movers punched a ticket to the semifinals where they would face a well rested Petron squad bannered by former Cincinnati megastar Stephanie Niemer as well as Serena Warner, Aiza Maizo-Pontillas and Frances Molina.
But save for the magnitude of that playoff battle, there was something that stirred the curiosity of faithful supporters of De La Salle University in the University Athletic Association of the Philippines.
It’s not about how Kemper and Spelman would dominate the Lynda Morales-less Cignal side; it’s about how Ramil de Jesus would grade the performance of two of his former wards – Chie Saet and Stephanie Mercado – in a highly-crucial battle where survival and title hopes are on the line.
Saet and Mercado occupy a special place in de Jesus’ heart.
Saet, for one, played a starring role in the fabled La Salle team that won three consecutive titles in the 2003, 2004 and 2005 UAAP seasons then it was suspended in 2006 while Mercado donned La Salle’s green and white during the school’s darkest times when it got suspended by the UAAP in 2008.
Actually, the main target was the men’s basketball team after it fielded a couple of players with spurious high school credentials. But the entire athletic program was suspended, including the women’s volleyball team that was looking to further strengthen its dynasty in the collegiate ranks.
While Saet continued her volleyball career elsewhere, Mercado stayed with de Jesus starting with AirAsia, Generika, Shopinas and Meralco where she experienced both the joy of winning and the pain of losing. She was also part of the Cargo Movers squad that won the PSL All-Filipino crown few months ago before opting to join Cignal in its rebuilding program.
That’s why de Jesus was the proudest watching how Saet and Mercado do damage for the HD Spikers. And he’s giving them grades with flying colors.
Mercado finished the night with six kills for a total of seven points while Saet assumed the role of a starting playmaker while providing the leadership and a lot of intangibles that no stat sheet can ever measure.
Although it is already her third time to see her La Salle friends like Cha Cruz, Aby Marano, Mika Reyes and Kim Fajardo at the other side of the court, Mercado still couldn’t help but marvel over all the wonderful and bitter memories they shared together as a team.
From the suspension to forfeiture of games, failed shot at winning the title and formally clinching the crown, memories came flashing back at Mercado’s thought as she took on her former team.
But she refused to get affected.
But still, Mercado admitted that she can’t hide the fact that she misses the old La Salle team after she became the third member to bolt out following Melissa Gohing and Michelle Gumabao, who are now with Pocari Sweat in the rival league.
Mercado took a long pause before flashing a smile.
She knows that joining other team is part of the business, but the friendship she made with her former teammates is something she would treasure for the rest of her life.