MANILA, Philippines – Over the course of the PVL’s existence, the Creamline Cool Smashers have been a constant presence in every single tournament’s playoff casts, contending for championships or a podium spot, at the very least.
Not much has changed at the turn of 2023, as the mighty franchise cruised to the 2023 All-Filipino Conference semifinals with the top seed off a 7-1 record.
This time, however, Creamline enters unfamiliar territory as for the first time in its storied history, it is entering the postseason without its longtime superstar Alyssa Valdez, who recently underwent an undisclosed procedure on the right knee she hurt at the 2022 Reinforced Conference battle for bronze.
Amid constant rumors of a longer hiatus for the three-time PVL MVP, Cool Smashers head coach Sherwin Meneses confirmed Valdez’s absence for at least the duration of the semifinals after their last win on Tuesday, March 14, in Iloilo against the Akari Chargers.
“We were already prepared to not have Ly at the start of the season. Right now, she just can’t play yet. Our number one priority is her health,” Meneses said in Filipino. “But our preparation continues every day in training to keep improving.”
Like the coaches, Creamline’s players have also accepted the grim reality that they will lack one on-court leader come the playoffs. However, as new captain Jia de Guzman put it, Valdez never lost a step in guiding the team the moment she traded in her jersey for street clothes.
“Ate Ly will always be there even though she’s not on the court. She gives us a lot of valuable input and criticisms that will really help our game, like the third set [against Akari] that we lost [29-27],” she said.
“She gave us things to fix and it really helped. It showed on the court in the fourth set,” De Guzman added as Creamline wrapped up the game and clinched the first seed with a 25-8 Set 4 blowout.
In previous games, Valdez always did whatever she could to help the Cool Smashers, from whispering mid-game adjustments to younger players to something as menial as gathering volleyballs during warmups.
Even after the knee procedure that left her in crutches, Valdez still hobbled her way to the bench and so far has not missed a single game even in that limited capacity.
Likely to Valdez’s delight, the rest of the Cool Smashers have performed admirably in her absence, to a point where her absence almost didn’t matter at times. Fully healthy or not, expect Creamline to still bring the fight to any challenger that comes its way. – Rappler.com
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