Foton Pilipinas will be up against squads fortified by former Olympians and national team players when they begin their campaign in the AVC Asian Women’s Club Championship that fires off on Saturday at the Alonte Sports Arena in Biñan City.
Yuan Xinyue, a 19-year old middle blocker who won the gold medal in the recent Rio de Janeiro Olympics, will be parading Ba’yi Shenzheng of China together with Lin Yanhan, the open spiker who was named Most Valuable Player when the country hosted the Asian U23 Women’s Championship last year.
Not to be outdone, the NEC Red Rockets of Japan will also parade an Olympian in middle blocker Haruyo Shimamura together with Sarina Koga, the Best Scorer and MVP when the Japanese team won the gold medal in the Asian Youth Girls Championship in 2012.
Asian champion Bangkok Glass of Thailand is another force to reckon with in the tournament organized by the Larong Volleyball ng Pilipinas, Inc. (LVPI) and Philippine Superliga (PSL).
The Thais will be led by seasoned campaigners Pleumjit Thinkaow, Wanida Kotruang and Wilavan Apinyapong as well as young guns Pornpun Guedpard and Sutadta Chuewulim.
Foton Pilipinas will be led by American imports Ariel Usher and Lindsay Stalzer with guest players Aby Marano of F2 Logistics, Jen Reyes of Petron and Jovelyn Gonzaga of RC Cola-Army adding some force to the team.
They will be supported by mainstays Jaja Santiago, Rhea Dimaculangan, Maika Ortiz, Patty Orendain, EJ Laure, Angeli Araneta, Bia General, Ivy Perez and Cherry Rondina with Italian Fabio Menta as head coach.
Pocari Sweat of Hong Kong and Thongtin Lienvietpost Bank of Vietnam will be the Tornadoes’ first two opponents in the group stages.
But things are expected to get rough from there as Foton Pilipinas will be pitted against either the NEC Red Rockets of Japan or the Altay VC of Kazakhstan that boasts of formidable imports Russian Olga Biryukova, Bulgarian Vanya Varbanova and Cuban Yunieska Robles Batista.
“It’s a very dangerous field,” said Menta, who guided the national team of Cook Islands last year. “The job starts after the group stages when we play either Japan or Kazakhstan. It’s either we play our best or we lose. We need half a luck and half a miracle to overcome these tough teams.”
“But we are working very hard. We want to play the game of our lives when we face these elite Asian teams.”
Also seeing action in the meet are Jakarta Elektrik PLN of Indonesia, 4.25 Sports Club of North Korea, T. Grand of Taiwan, Sarmayeh Bank and Malaysia, which is said to be bringing in its national side.