Ohshima Kyoka Kurashiki captain Ohshima Kyoka proudly displays the PVL Invitational Conference Finals MVP trophy. PVL photo

Champs on and off the court

July 31, 2023 Theodore P. Jurado 319 views

NEWLY-MINTED Premier Volleyball League Invitational Conference queens Kurashiki is not only a champion on the court, but also off the court.

Moments after ruling the tournament Sunday night at the Philsports Arena, members of the Ablaze stayed behind after all the celebrations have died down to help the stadium personnel at the fabled Pasig venue clean up all the confetti, a known Japanese sporting culture.

“We couldn’t start last night’s fellowship dinner without the Kurashiki Ablaze, because after the game, the 2023 PVL Invitational champs still worked together with Philsports staff to clean up the arena. Mad respect,” Creamline team manager Alan Acero posted on his X (formerly known as Twitter) account yesterday.

The Ablaze also earned a lot of admiration as they conducted an outreach program for the kids on the eve of the one-match Final in Tondo, Manila on Saturday.

Local fans didn’t know any of the players when Kurashiki arrived for its maiden PVL stint. They probably all recognize most of the Japanese now.

After beating the Cool Smashers, 19-25, 25-23, 25-19, 20-25, 15-13, in an epic finale, Finals MVP Ohshima Kyoka and Best Outside Spiker Tamaru Asaka Tamaru and libero Kaoru Takahashi have became household names overnight for the Ablaze.

Kyoka was superb not only in her playmaking but also in digging, Asaka is a well-rounded player, doing all the work in the defensive end aside from being a reliable player, while Takahashi has been solid in her role.

The PVL championship will definitely boost Kurashiki in its campaign in the Japan V.League third division.

Creamline’s Tots Carlos, who had a classic mano-a-mano with Tamaru with their exchange of attacks in the deciding set, put it all in context when she said: “They’re organized, very good, kahit ano pang division galing yan. Masipag, matiyaga and we knew we have to find ways to stop them.”

The Cool Smashers failed, just like the four other squads in the six-team semifinals, and the Ablaze went undefeated in six matches.

“I’m very happy (with this victory),” said Asaka, whose last contested serve clinched the championship for the Ablaze. “I thought my serve wasn’t in good condition but I was thinking I would like to finish it with a spike.”

Coach Hideo Suzuki profusely thanked PVL president Ricky Palou for inviting Kurashiki to compete in the mid-season conference, the club team’s first overseas campaign, saying: “We’re very happy and appreciative of Mr. Ricky’s invitation.”

“If Mr. Ricky will invite us again next year, 100 percent sure, we’ll come back,” said Suzuki through an interpreter.

That should be something to look forward to as the Ablaze endeared themselves to both the local players and fans for their system, class and character – and for sharing whatever they have in their resources.

“It’s always nice to learn from different countries, their system,” said Creamline skipper and many-time national team member Alyssa Valdez.

“Ang dami pa natin kailangan matutunan, kailangan i-adjust. Siyempre, as Filipinos we all have our own strengths and weaknesses, so it’s just nice to have this opportunities. Later on, we’ll benefit from this, and hopefully, mas madami pang dumating dito para mas tumaas pa lalo ang quality ng volleyball dito sa atin,” she added.

“And more exciting games for all of us.”

Kyoka thanked the fans who supported them, adding: “We enjoyed it, we played under pressure with so many fans cheering for Creamline. But we played as a team and it’s a good win.”

The 25-year-old setter also cited counterpart Jia de Guzman’s stellar game.

“She’s good, her plays are so hard to read and I learned a lot from her,” said Kyoka on De Guzman.

The Ablaze captain was satisfied to see the Filipinos compete while relishing their experience of playing huge crowds.

“Filipino players are strong and we wish to be able to play again before a big audience,” said Kyoka.