MANILA, Philippines – Regardless of whom they will play in the finals of the Premier Volleyball League (PVL) Open Conference, the Creamline Cool Smashers knew that they had to emerge triumphant.
They were determined to win for head coach Tai Bundit, who was set to leave the Philippines after the tournament to return home to Thailand.
"Even before the semifinals result of BanKo-Perlas and Ateneo happened, we were already practicing and training for the finals," said Creamline star Michele Gumabao in an interview on "The Score."
"And everyone really agreed that whoever we're gonna face in the finals, it's gonna be our best game because we're gonna do it for Coach Tai," she added.
Creamline wound up playing Ateneo de Manila University in the best-of-3 finals, after the Lady Eagles outlasted BanKo-Perlas in a thrilling semi-final match-up.
The veteran Cool Smashers were relentless against their younger foes in the championship series. Creamline didn't allow Ateneo to win a single set: they took Game 1, 25-17, 25-10, 25-15, and Game 2, 25-20, 25-20, 25-15.
Jia Morado, the former Ateneo playmaker, earned Finals MVP honors.
"Sabi namin, we're going to offer this game to (Coach Tai)," said Gumabao, who averaged 12 points in the finals series.
Their Open Conference title capped a tremendous campaign for Creamline. They had broken through earlier in the season after winning the Reinforced Conference crown, and underlined their dominance of the PVL by ruling the season-ending tournament as well.
For Gumabao, their performances – and their championships – are a testament to their coach.
Bundit first became famous in the Philippines for leading the Ateneo Lady Eagles to a pair of UAAP titles, and instilling in them the "happy, happy" and "heart strong" mantra.
But it is his grueling training program that made the Lady Eagles a championship-caliber team, and he brought that same intensity to the Cool Smashers.
"We have a mentality to never settle," said Gumabao of their squad. "No matter what game, we perform. No matter what standing we're in, no matter how many championships already."
"And it's from Coach Tai, (that's why) we never settle," she stressed.
This is why they worked so hard over the course of the season – to the point where they practiced three times in 24 hours before their title-clinching triumph in Game 2, said Gumabao.
"The mentality is to learn more, to grow and to better our sport. It's not to relax," she said. "That's why each and every day, we improve as a team, not only individually."
"Because andoon 'yung mentality namin na we have to perform better and that's coming from our coaching staff."
Bundit will return to Thailand on December 14. He coached Ateneo from UAAP Season 76 to 80, leading Ateneo to three finals appearances and two championships.
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