Veterans dazzle as Air Force nears V-League crown with big fightback

Prior to the finals, Wendy Semana said she wants Air Force to make history so that new fans of the sport can get to know who they are. 

And after delivering a masterful performance with 65 excellent sets in Game 1 of the 13th Shakey’s V-League Open Conference finals, the veteran playmaker took one step closer to achieving that.

Semana and fellow old hands May Ann Pantino and Joy Cases teamed up to bring the Jet Spikers up from the grave and beat fancied Pocari Sweat, 17-25, 25-20, 15-25, 26-24, 15-11, Wednesday night at the Philsports Arena.

The top seeds, who took an almost 2-week break after dismantling Laoag in the Final Four, were unable to get their rhythm on offense in the first 3 1/2 sets, as the Lady Warriors neared victory with an 11-3 advantage in the fourth frame.

But Lady Luck smiled on Air Force’s side from then on as they essayed what could be their biggest comeback of the tournament.

“Para kaming dumaan sa butas ng karayom kanina,” relayed a visibly relieved coach Jasper Jimenez post-game. “Mas nakita lang namin na pundasyon yung training namin. Saka sinwerte kami.”

Jimenez went back to the Jet Spikers’ ploy of firing missiles from the service line, just like what they did when they stunned Pocari in the elimination round.

That seemed to have backfired early on as the Air Force threw service error after service error.

But things finally clicked for the Jet Spikers, backed by a wild crowd of enlisted personnel, in the last 2 sets.

In the end, Air Force put one foot in the door of its first-ever V-League championship while pushing the Lady Warriors, which ousted powerhouse Bali Pure in the semis, to the brink of defeat.

“Fighting spirit talaga nagpataas ng morale sa amin,” Jimenez added. “Kahit malayo na yung kalaban, yung pagiging solid namin as a team yung key dun.”

Pantino led the Jet Spikers with 17 points and 13 excellent receptions, Cases had 14 points off 10 hits, 2 aces and 2 blocks, and Jocemer Tapic added 11 markers.

On the other hand, the Lady Warriors banked on a monster effort by Michele Gumabao, who had 22 points, 16 digs and 7 excellent receptions.

Elaine Kasilag and Myla Pablo chipped in 18 and 17 points, respectively, but Pocari couldn’t find a break when it mattered most and will fight for dear life in Game 2 on Saturday at the Philsports Arena. — By Josiah Albelda