Ariel Usher finds inspiration in sacrifices of Jaja Santiago, Lindsay Stalzer for Foton
Ariel Usher was surprised to see a complete lineup for Foton Pilipinas in their crucial match against Altay VC.

BINAN CITY – Foton Pilipinas import Ariel Usher took pride in the sacrifices her teammate Jaja Santiago and fellow reinforcement Lindsay Stalzer took to put the team first in their tough 2016 AVC Asian Women’s Club campaign.

On Wednesday, the Tornadoes faced a much-win situation against Altay VC of Kazakhstan in the classification for the quarterfinals placing to avoid the winner between defending champion Bangkok Glass of Thailand and Asian powerhouse Ba’yi Shenzheng of China.

To Usher’s surprise, Foton Pilipinas paraded a complete lineup with Santiago and Stalzer back in uniform after missing two games due to back spasms. Even though the Tornadoes lost in straight sets, Usher said seeing her teammates have each other’s back was reward enough.

“That’s just awesome, that’s what I like about our Foton, it’s just always about the team. Whatever’s best for the team, they’re gonna do,” Usher told SPIN.ph.

The night before the match, Foton Pilipinas skipper Santiago could not focus for she had two games on different venues set on Wednesday afternoon—first against Altay VC at Alonte Sports Arena here then for National University’s semifinals match against University of the Philippines in the Shakey’s V-League Collegiate Conference at PhilSports Arena in Pasig.

Santiago had previously said she’d prioritize NU but had a change of heart after Foton management arranged a service for her which will be escorted by the Highway Patrol Group. A source, who refused to be named, revealed that the team had to pay a hefty sum for the HPG escort.

The 6-foot-4 middle blocker played for Foton Pilipinas and wasted no time in heading to PhilSports Arena after the match ended at around 3:30 p.m. After a breezy 25-minute travel from Binan, she made it just in the nick of time for NU’s pre-game warm-ups. The double duty effort impressed Usher.

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“I know there was a big talk about Jaja, ‘Is she gonna play? Is she not gonna play? And Jaja was like, ‘No, ‘I will play.’ And for me it was just really admirable,” said Usher.

“That she put high importance for this country, for this team, for her teammates and everything and she’s making the sacrifice and hustle to get to the next game and it’s just awesome and worthy of respect,” she added.

Meanwhile, Stalzer surprised everyone including Foton management on her last minute decision to play for the team. According to a team insider, they did not want to risk the health of Stalzer but she insisted on suiting up.

The hard-hitting spiker, who was the MVP in Foton’s title run in last year’s Philippine Super Liga Grand Prix that earned them the right to play in the AWCC, chose to play because of her desire to help the team. Usher again was in awe of her fellow import’s dedication.

“And Lindsay, they ultimately put it up to her if she wanted to play. I know I told her, ‘You do what’s best for you. I don’t want you getting hurt or you can try it out or if you’re hurt sub yourself out.’ It was great having her on the court, though. We missed her a lot,” said Usher.

“I can’t be happier to be with this team. It’s just very inspiring to be with them on the court, to play with them and be teammates with these kinds of volleyball players. It’s just an awesome feeling,” she added.

Foton Pilipinas, which finished fourth in Pool E after the classification phase, will take on Pool F No. 1 team Ba’yi Shenzheng on Friday for the knockout quarterfinals. 

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