Caught up in the euphoria of their successful title-retention drive in the Premier Volleyball League Reinforced Conference, Petro Gazz coach Rald Ricafort couldn’t help but postulate the presence of a naturalized player who could help anchor their bid for a coveted Open diadem the next time out.
“Siguro dapat mag-naturalize,” said Ricafort in jest when asked of the team’s scheme to nail the elusive (Open) title after back-to-back runner-up finishes to Creamline in the past two editions of the league’s centerpiece tournament.
“Mabigat talaga ang laban sa all-Filipino, kasi yung ibang teams masyadong all-star na talaga (ang lineup),” he said. “Like Creamline, yung mga Rebisco teams, F2 Logistics. Pero lumalaban pa rin naman kami, kumbaga, kaunting trabaho pa talaga siguro at soon, makaka-sungkit uli kami, pati sa all-Filipino.”
After retaining the Reinforced crown in emphatic fashion, sweeping first-time finalist Cignal HD, Petro Gazz has now trained its sights on the premier championship and Ricafort and the Angels will have three full months to figure out a way to make things work out when the league kicks off its new season in the second week of February.
“Kailangan i-work out pa rin talaga yung sistema na binibigay sa mga locals. Unti-unti, nakukuha naman namin,” added Ricafort.
But Ricafort, who took over from the 2019 Reinforced champion coach Arnold Laniog during the off-season, and the Angels would want to seize the moment first before ever plotting their next move.
“Siempre, sobrang saya, lalo doon sa mga players na gusto talaga namin ialay yung game, knowing yung mga sacrifices na ginawa namin. So sulit naman yung pagkakakuha (ng championship),” said Ricafort.
“This is by far the most fun I’ve had in a long time playing (volleyball), said the Univ. of Oregon product, who posted a league first by winning the Best Import and the Finals MVP honors behind her conference-long brilliance.
But it’s the experience playing in the country, she said, that made her journey with the Angels truly memorable.
“I had no idea what I was coming into (playing in the Philippines). This is my first season and I just heard stuff about it and I couldn’t have it any better. This is just amazing,” said Vander Weide, who also expressed her great amount of respect and admiration for the fans.
“The Filipino fans are insane. I’ve never experienced something like this in my entire life. It’s crazy. I think this is how volleyball fans should be, so I really appreciate them showing up and supporting all the time,” she added.
The heavy-hitting American also hinted at her availability if and when Petro Gazz would need her services in its future campaigns.
“I’d like to come back here. I’m going home for a little bit first. I’m so excited to see my family but I would love to come back here, 100 percent,” said Vander Weide, whose 34-point explosion spiked Petro Gazz’s 25-21, 27-25, 37-35 Game One win at the Smart Araneta Coliseum last Thursday.
A couple of locals also basked in the glory of their championship run partly aided by Chery Tiggo’s spoiling of Creamline’s bid in the wild semifinal grind.
“Syempre, masaya at mas na-feel ko ngayon yung happiness, kasi sobrang tagal ko din na hindi naka-tuntong sa championship,” said Myla Pablo, who won three straight PVL crowns with the Pocari Sweat in the 2016 Open and Reinforced Conferences and in 2017 Reinforced.
“Pero, ito yung napuntahan ko, yung Petro Gazz na back-to-back champions. I’m really happy na isa rin ako sa nakasama ng mga teammates ko at ng mga coaches,” added the former National U stalwart, who delivered the last two points in their 25-17, 22-25, 25-12, 25-22 title clincher Tuesday at the Philsports Arena in Pasig.
While top playmaker Djanel Cheng said she was delighted to have won her second championship, the former St. Benilde ace would want to enjoy the break first, free from the pressure and away from the spotlight.
“Masaya at nakuha ulit yung championship,” said Cheng, a member of the 2019 champion squad. “Pero siguro, ang pinaka-nangingibabaw sa akin ay yung pahinga ngayon. Kasi tuloy-tuloy yung training, wala talagang pahinga.”
She also credited the help and guidance of skipper and veteran campaigner Chie Saet, saying: “Kung ano yung nakikita niya sa labas na hindi ko nakikita, nasasabi nya sa akin, kaya nakapag-adjust kami na mabilis.”
But Ricafort stressed the Angels won not just because of Vander Weide or any particular player but their victory was an overall team effort.
“Thankful kami kasi marami kaming players na talagang naging ‘sponge.’ So kung ano yung in-instruct mo, yung ang gagawin. Thankful kami sa tiwala nila dahil ang bilis mag-work ng team kasi willing lahat na mag-trabaho at open sa lahat ng instructions,” said Ricafort, who also relied on MJ Phillipes, Aiza Pontillas, Remy Palma, Grethcel Soltones, Nicole Tiamzon, Jonah Sabete, Marian Buitre, Seth Rodriguez and liberos Arielle Cruz and Shiela Pineda all throughout their successful title run.
Ricafort knows the next task would be doubly daunting and more challenging, given their chief rivals’ powerhouse rosters. But the equally intact, well-driven Angels expect to get better, stronger and ready as they embark for an all-Filipino mission next February.