By ADRIAN STEWART CO
Kurashiki Ablaze of Japan dethroned Creamline Cool Smashers, 19-25, 25-23, 25-19, 20-25, 15-13, in the tightly-contested 2023 Premier Volleyball League (PVL) Invitational finals at the PhilSports Arena in Pasig City on late Sunday night, July 30.
Tamaru Azaka led the way with 29 points, while Hiraoka Akane added 14 markers as the Ablaze completed a perfect run to become the first-ever foreign team to hoist a PVL championship.
Yano Yukino and Kawamura Miho each ended with 11 points, Tanabe Saki chipped in 10 markers, while Ohshima Kyoka distributed the ball well with 19 excellent sets for the Ablaze.
After being denied the opportunity to close the title match in the fourth set, the Ablaze was forced to a tight game in the fifth frame and were down 10-11 after a block by Cool Smashers’ Michele Gumabao.
The Ablaze responded with back-to-back conversions from Akane and Azaka to force a deadlock at 12-all. The Cool Smashers regained the lead at 13-12 via a Celine Domingo connection, but the Japanese squad tied the score anew at 13-all courtesy of Yukino.
Saki then unloaded a powerful hit towards the defense of the Cool Smashers to put Ablaze at championship point before securing the crown on a successful challenge from a service ace by Azaka.
Carlos finished with 27 points to lead the dethroned Cool Smashers, Domingo and Jessica Galanza added 20 and 18 markers, respectively, while Alyssa Valdez finished with six points in three sets of action.
Meanwhile, Cignal HD Spikers took home the tournament’s bronze medal following a 25-22, 23-25, 25-20, 25-18 victory over the slumping F2 Logistics Cargo Movers in the battle-for-third place game.
To close out the mid-season conference, HD Spikers’ Frances Xinia Molina was hailed as the Most Valuable Player while her teammate Gel Cayuna was named as Best Setter for the second time.
Tamaru and Valdez were recognized as the Best Outside Spikers, Carlos as Best Opposite Hitter, Domingo and F2 Logistics Cargo Movers’ Mary Joy Baron as Best Middle Blockers, and PLDT High Speed Hitters’ Kath Arado as Best Libero./ASC, WDJ