PVL 2023: A historic conference for Philippine volleyball

The podium finishers of the recently concluded Premier Volleyball League (PVL) All-Filipino Conference 2023 have great stories to tell about Philippine volleyball.

By numbers alone, the Premier Volleyball League (PVL) All-Filipino Conference 2023 has made its mark in history. 

Game 2 of the finals between champion Creamline Cool Smashers and runner-up Choco Mucho Flying Titans gathered 24,459 spectators—now the highest in the sport’s local history. This broke the previous record of 22,848 volleyball fans who watched Game 3 of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) Season 78 Women’s Volleyball, wherein the De La Salle Lady Spikers defeated then-reigning champions, the Ateneo Lady Eagles. 

A record for Philippine volleyball. All photos from Facebook/Premier Volleyball League.

Coincidentally—or because of her—Alyssa Valdez, arguably the country’s most decorated volleyball player, was present in both these historic games. In Season 78, however, she failed to defend her team’s crown; for the PVL, she steered her team toward their seventh championship. That she unleashed the winning point on the fifth set was the cherry on top for a team that dominated the tournament undefeated. It’s also a personal victory for Valdez, who—in spite of her limited minutes due to previous injuries—has delivered the most crucial points for the team.

Beyond Valdez and the crowds, the second PVL All-Filipino Conference will also be remembered as a tournament of bright spots for Philippine volleyball. Previously at The POST, we’ve written about players, teams, and developments that we looked forward to at the beginning of the conference: young guns from collegiate teams turning pro, former players returning from hiatuses, and new teams to watch. 

In fact, the podium finishers alone are rife with success stories and welcome developments that could only signal better things not only for the conference, but for Philippine volleyball. Let’s relive a few moments from the PVL and go through the stories of this year’s winners.

Cignal HD Spikers: stronger connections

Without RAD, the Cignal HD Spikers kept their connections intact toward a bronze finish.

The Cignal HD Spikers entered the conference without their longtime captain, Rachel Anne Daquis. Affectionately called RAD by her fans, Daquis skipped the recent conference to pursue a coaching camp invitation in the United States. People were left wondering who would step up to lead the team, as RAD provided that maturity and guidance inside the court that have allowed the HD Spikers to land at the podium repeatedly since 2017. 

Fans had their answer in PVL Invitational Conference 2023 MVP Ces Molina and the “Bionic Ilongga,” Jovelyn Gonzaga. With collegiate captaincy experience and national team stints (Gonzaga was the captain of the national team in 2015), the steady presence and powerful attacks of the duo inspired the collective effort of the HD Spikers toward a bronze finish. 

Just in her rookie year for the HD Spikers and the PVL, Vanie Gandler is becoming a force to be reckoned with in the league.

But perhaps the biggest spark for this team is the revelation that is Vanie Gandler, who joined the team this year after graduating from the Ateneo de Manila University. With a consistent yet deadly backline attack and a heavy swing, the open spiker has quickly become the HD Spikers’ go-to girl, registering 20+ points in most games. Not to be discounted is PVL’s latest best setter, Gel Cayuna, who doesn’t just orchestrate the HD Spikers’ offense—she also dishes in the points with sharp services and one-two plays. 

If this is the Cignal HD Spikers team that RAD will return to soon, it would be exciting to see how a renewed Daquis will lead a dynamo of a team. 

Choco Mucho Flying Titans: a sweet silver finish

It’s been four years since fans last saw the “Cherry Bomb” in the hard court, and Sisi made an explosive comeback.

The story of Choco Mucho from the bottom rungs of the PVL to first runner-up cannot be told without mentioning Cherry Ann “Sisi” Rondina. The explosive open spiker, once a stalwart of the now-defunct Petron Blaze Spikers from 2017 to 2019, took to the sands and dominated the beach volleyball scene in the past four years. Alongside beach volleyball partner Bernadeth Pons (who moved to Creamline), Rondina’s return to the hard court was met with much fanfare and anticipation, as fans knew what “cherry bombs” this small yet high leaper could unleash inside the court.

Rondina wasted no time getting her groove back. By the end of the preliminaries, she became the second best scorer of the league with 194 points and the third most effective spiker with a conversion rate of 37.94%. And while her team ultimately fell short to the Cool Smashers, her instant impact for the Flying Titans was duly recognized as the league’s MVP. 

Alongside college-turned-pro teammates, Maddie Madayag (right) has been an imposing presence at the front line with Kat Tolentino (left). Both spikers have synced well with their longtime setter, Deanna Wong (center)

The Choco Mucho Flying Titans isn’t just the Sisi Rondina show, however. With open spiker Des Cheng’s unfortunate knee injury, fellow skipper Isa Molde rose to the occasion and produced quality points for the team. Renowned for her blocking prowess even in her collegiate years, Maddie Madayag proved why she’s a force to be reckoned with at the net by registering as many as seven blocks in a game. Complementing this defensive display is Thang Ponce, whose heroics on the floor kept several rallies alive and earned her the best libero award this conference. 

If Choco Mucho wants to capture the gold, they must go beyond Sisi Rondina’s astounding numbers with consistent performances from the team and, if possible, fresh faces who can breathe new life and deepen the Flying Titans’ bench—an advantage that our champion team had coming into the conference. 

Creamline Cool Smashers: anything but chill

Championship blood runs in the veins of these ladies.

Do not let Creamline’s undefeated streak fool you: the Cool Smashers’ journey to the top was a hard-earned one. 

With two integral cogs in decorated setter Jia de Guzman and MVP middle blocker Celine Domingo playing overseas, Creamline had to look into their deep bench and figure out a way to keep their championship performance golden throughout the season. More than calling second stringers Kyle Negrito (setter) and Risa Sato (middle blocker) forward, the team also took in new players in setters Mafe Galanza and Thea Bonafe, and middle blocker Lorie Bernardo to keep the team intact. 

At the end of the conference, it was Creamline’s seamless teamwork—whichever players you fielded in—that sealed their victory. Everyone in the lineup was able to play at least once and contribute points toward their victories. 

Fans, fellow players, and coaches alike have pointed out how Creamline has the ability to swap players when needed, whether for tactical purposes or to give players with off-days a quick breather. A notable example is the pairing of Diana Mae “Tots” Carlos and Michele Gumabao, both opposite spikers who either fill in for each other or, on certain occasions, play together with Tots as an opener and Mich at the opposite. That Tots and Michele are the top two most efficient spikers in the league (Tots converts 40.14% of sets given to her into points, while Michele does 39.74%) despite not always playing full games speaks of their skill and valuable contributions inside the court. High flyers Jema Galanza and Bernadeth Pons would also switch places in the open position alongside Alyssa Valdez, supporting the latter while she plays through post-injury recovery.

Kyle Negrito orchestrated the Cool Smashers’ offense with grace under pressure.

Perhaps it was Kyle Negrito’s new role as starting setter that fans zeroed in critically from start to finish. Stepping into the shoes of the country’s best setter in recent years isn’t an easy feat at all, but Negrito proved herself worthy in the end by becoming the league’s second best setter. She also showcased her offensive capabilities with hard services and aggressive one-two plays. That she had steady backups in Mafe Galanza and Thea Bonafe also somehow relieved the pressure from her shoulders. 

And at the end of the day—and fittingly at the end of the conference—it was Alyssa Valdez who led the talented Creamline team toward a gold finish, with a killer cross-court spike that the country has grown to love and cheer for across Valdez’s decorated volleyball career. With the way she has been playing post-injury back in 2022, we’re bound to see more of these cool and smashing spikes in more PVL conferences to come.

Always and forever legendary, the Phenom Alyssa Valdez.
Features Associate

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