Chery Tiggo rallies past Creamline to claim country’s first volley pro crown
The towering Santiago sisters powered Chery Tiggo to a dramatic come-from-behind victory over Creamline to claim the 2021 Premier Volleyball League Open Conference crown on Friday, and one of them lay claim to the throne as the best in the country today.
Dindin Santiago-Manabat fired a game-high 32 points and Jaja Santiago, returning home from a triumphant stint as an import in Japan, finished with 26 as the Crossovers rallied from the brink of defeat to forge a 23-25, 20-25, 25-21, 25-23, 15-8 victory against the Cool Smashers at PCV Socio-Civic and Cultural Center in Bacarra, Ilocos Norte.
“I just want to thank the Lord for giving me strength,” said a tearful Manabat.
It was the younger Santiago, though, who stamped her claim as the best volleyball player in the land after claiming the tournament’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) award and the Finals MVP trophy.
“It’s special because we won, we got the championship, and we always believed that He was always watching over us,” said Santiago in Filipino.
But it was a victory that almost slipped away early, as the Crossovers fell two sets behind right away. But Chery Tiggo never backed down. The team that was pushed to a corner after dropping a five-setter in Game 1 of the best-of-three finals flashed the same resilience in the match, assembling two spectacular set victories to forge a decider.
There, the Crossovers stepped on the gas pedal, cruising to six of the first seven points in the decider to deflate the Cool Smashers’ morale and own the distinction as the first professional volleyball champions in the country.
“I want to congratulate Creamline, which has the experience in this kind of level [of play]. But thank God, He guided us and we showed what we are made of,” said Chery Tiggo coach Aaron Velez. “We just trusted ourselves, we trusted one another.”
Santiago, who led the Crossovers to the second seed after the elimination round and into the Finals, normed 14.82 points per game up until the second game of the semifinals—the cut-off for the conference awards. The 6-foot-5 blocker out of Tanza in Cavite also led the league in spikes at 122 on a 49.8-percent success rate, third in blocks with 23 and tops in the aces department with 18.
In the three-game finals, it was older sister Dindin who took charge for Chery Tiggo, norming 23.0 points per game.
Former University of the Philippines star Tots Carlos led Creamline with 22 points. Alyssa Valdez added 17 and finished runner-up in the MVP race.
Santiago and Valdez led the All-Premier Team and were joined there by middle blocker Ria Meneses of Petro Gazz, opposite spiker Kat Tolentino of Choco Mucho, outside spiker Myla Pablo of Petro Gazz, setter Jia Morado of Creamline and libero Kath Arado of Petro Gazz. —Bong Lozada
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