Last year’s finals protagonists – Foton and Petron – are still the solid forces to look out for when the 2016 Philippine Superliga (PSL) Grand Prix fires off on Saturday at The Arena in San Juan City.
After representing the country in the Asian Women’s Club Championship, hopes are high for the Foton Tornadoes, who will march into this prestigious inter-club tourney with seasoned imports, upgraded roster and a new head coach.
Former Most Valuable Player Lindsay Stalzer will be back together with fellow American Ariel Usher to carry the scoring loads while prized middle blocker Dindin Manabat will finally reunite with her sister, Jaja Santiago, after a brief hiatus from playing in the club league.
But the most impressive move was the acquisition of head coach Moro Branislav of Serbia, who will also call the shots for PSL-F2 Logistics Manila in the FIVB Women’s Club World Championship on October 18 to 23 at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Branislav will be bringing with him a vast wealth of international experience, highlighted with stops in club teams in countries like Yugoslavia, Greece, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Kuwait, Belarus and North Korea.
“Foton team has all the right pieces to win the PSL title,” said the 59-year old guru who guided April 25 Sports Club of North Korea to back-to-back appearances in the AVC club tourney. “My job is to put together all those pieces and complete the championship puzzle.”
Branislav said Manabat and Santiago will form the defensive fortress at the net together with Angeli Araneta and Maika Ortiz while Stalzer, Usher, Patty Orendain, EJ Laure and Sisi Rondina will supply the offense.
Not to be outdone, Petron also made some serious moves, making this year’s edition of the Grand Prix one of the best and most exciting ever.
The Tri-Activ Spikers acquired high-flying Stephanie Niemer to light up the scoreboard while 6-foot-5 Serena Warner will man the defense to fill the void created by the departure of Far Eastern University stars Bernadeth Pons and Remy Palma, who opted to concentrate on their preparation for the UAAP.
Petron also appointed long-time deputy Shaq Delos Reyes as head coach replacing George Pascua, the architect of the historic 13-0 sweep of the 2015 PSL All-Filipino Conference.
“It’s still the same system,” Delos Santos said. “Since we would be losing the scoring and defense of Pons and Palma, we decided to get imports who can plug those holes. And we’re glad to have made the right choices.”
Besides Warner and Niemer, said to be the most prolific in this year’s batch of imports, Petron also acquired April Ross Hingpit from Cignal to support veteran Acy Masangkay in setting the plays for spikers Frances Molina, Aiza Maizo-Pontillas and CJ Rosario.
“Our core remains intact,” said Delos Santos, adding that Jen Reyes and Bang Pineda will remain as their premier backline defenders. “We just have to work hard and convert our fluid chemistry into victories.”