EXCITEMENT in the days leading up to the Philippine Superliga Grand Prix 2013 hit fever pitch on Wednesday when nine foreign players checked in for their nearly two-month tour of duty in the country's premier club league set to start on Sunday at The Arena in San Juan.
Coaches from the defending champion TMS-Army, PLDT, Cignal, Petron, Cagayan Army and new team RC Cola, which partly owns Air Asia-Zest and Zesto juice drinks, got to chance to size up the foreign players for the first time and were impressed with their skills.
Three players from China are already in town. They are Li Zhanzhan, a 10-year veteran and consistent top player in China's B-League; Zhang Minghua, and Xie Lei, who has been playing for 16 years as she had started at a very young age of 11.
There will be three Japanese players in Asian Games veteran Shinako Tanaka; Misao Tanyama, an MVP in the Mongol League and a consistent awardee in the Japanese volleyball circuit; and Yuki Murakoshi, only 22 but already a veteran in the J-Circuit.
Also seeing action is American Kaylee Mann, who has played in the US Professional Volley league as well as in other leagues in Switzerland, Germany, Norway and Brazil.
Thailand's Keawbundit Sontaya and Luangtonglang Wanitchaya, both veterans of the World Championships, are also being tapped for GP action.
Ramon Suzara, president of the PSL and top man of the organizing SportsCore, said that while his group is waiting for at least a couple more foreign players to complete the list, the imports will be evenly and equitably distributed among the six teams depending on their strengths, weaknesses and needs.
"The Grand Prix will feature rosters which are even in all angles. While talent and skills of players count, it's going to be the job of the coaches to make their games work and notch as many wins as possible to claim the crown," Suzara said of the Grand Prix, which will be backed by Asics, Mikasa, LGR and Jinling Sports.
The foreign players have seen action in various leagues sanctioned by the FIVB (International Volleyball Federation) and the AVC (Asian Volleyball Confederation) and their collective experience is expected to raise the level of competition in the PSL's second tournament after the successful PSL Invitationals held last July.
"These are strong players and were recommended by their teams and federations. We expect to gain from their experience as the Philippines tries its best to improve on its standings in the PVF and the AVC," Suzara added. "The PSL hopes to contribute to that aim."
Petron coach Vilet Ponce-de Leon said: "We're highly impressed, the imports would take our games to an even higher plane and we're all excited to mix and match different combinations to make them jell with our locals."
TMS-Army coach Rico de Guzman, however, said the presence of foreign players in their rosters will make the competition even in all angles, and said the locals will still make the difference during the crucial moments of the tournament.
Solar Sports remains the PSL's valuable broadcast partner.
The foreign players will be publicly introduced on Saturday after the stakeholders' meeting at the Wack Wack Golf and Country Club.