Foton faces Pocari Sweat HK as AVC Asian Women’s Club meet unfolds

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Jaja Santiago (3) towers over Katherine Bersola during a match.  CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Jaja Santiago (3) towers over Katherine Bersola during a match. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Foton Pilipinas takes the warpath in high spirits when it tackles Pocari Sweat of Hong Kong for the opening salvo of the 2016 AVC Asian Women’s Club Championship today at the Alonte Sports Arena in Biñan City, Laguna.

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Action starts at 2:30 p.m. following the match between T. Grand of Taiwan and the Malaysian national squad at 11:30 a.m., and a brief opening ceremony at 1:30 p.m.

Also seeing action in the opener are Jakarta Elektrik PLN of Indonesia, which will battle Altay VC of Kazakhstan at 5 p.m., and 4.25 Sports Club of North Korea, which will face Sarmayeh Bank of Iran, in the night cap at 7 p.m.

Despite having only two weeks to prepare following an impressive bridesmaid finish in the 2016 PSL All-Filipino Conference, hopes are high for the Tornadoes as they drafted American imports Lindsay Stalzer and Ariel Usher, together with guest players Aby Marano of F2 Logistics, Jen Reyes of Petron and Jovelyn Gonzaga of RC Cola-Army.

Foton Pilipinas also tapped Italian coach Fabio Menta, a grizzled international mentor who called the shots for the Cook Islands national women’s team last year.

Menta said that although Hong Kong appears to be a light team on paper and after the PSL All-Star Team swept it in a friendly match in Bangkok last March, they still can’t be taken for granted as it is an experienced team powered by quick players who can attack above the net.

“Blocking will be the key to the game,” said Menta, who piloted the Tornadoes to a pair of victories in the tough Sealect Tuna Thailand Volleyball League in Sisaket, Thailand last week.

“Hong Kong and any other teams will be a big obstacle if we do not perform at blocking. So, one game at a time, day after day, we can have our tallest player, Jaja (Santiago), understand the new schemes and improve the mechanism.”

Menta admitted that the 6-foot-5 Santiago has yet to fully grasp his system as her school commitment limited her time with the team.

On the same note, Gonzaga had trained only thrice as she failed to secure a travel permit from the Philippine Army when the team went to Thailand to compete.

“We are working very hard on every single detail and everyone is focused,” he said. “But Jaja trained only once while Jov trained three times. We will not be perfect.”

Menta added that Maika Ortiz, Rhea Dimaculangan, EJ Laure, Cherry Rondina, Patty Orendain, Bia General, Angeli Araneta and Ivy Perez will also play crucial roles when the going gets tough.

Their target is to dominate their first two games against Hong Kong and Vietnam to build momentum in the quarterfinals where dangerous NEC Red Rockets of Japan or Altay VC of Kazakhstan would be waiting.

“We look at the quarterfinals as much as possible,” he said. “From there, we will be better from where we are right now.

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