Jaja Santiago central to Menta plans as Foton battles Hong Kong in AVC debut
Team captains and coaches of the competing sides in the Asian Women's Club Championship.

BINAN CITY – Foton Pilipinas goes to war in high spirits when it tackles Pocari Sweat of Hong Kong at the start of the 2016 AVC Asian Women’s Club Championship on Saturday at the Alonte Sports Arena.

The hosts see action at 2:30 p.m. following the match between T. Grand of Chinese Taipei and the Malaysian national squad at 11:30 am, and a brief opening ceremony at 1:30 pm to be graced by Binan City Mayor Arman Dimaguila, Larong Volleyball sa Pilipinas, Inc. (LVPI) president Joey Romasanta and Philippine Sports Commission chairman William Ramirez.

AVC Honorary Life President Wei Jizhong will also attend as guest of honor.

Also seeing action in the opener of this prestigious meet organized by the Philippine Superliga (PSL), LVPI and city government of Binan headed by Representative Len Alonte-Naguiat and Mayor Dimaguila 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.

AksyonTV will air the Foton Pilipinas-Pocari Sweat match live while TV5 will start its broadcast at 3 p.m.

Despite having only two weeks to prepare after their runner-up finish in the 2016 PSL All-Filipino Conference, the Tornadoes are confident 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 lost to a PSL All-Star team in a friendly in Bangkok last March, it still can’t be taken for granted as it is an experienced squad powered by quick players who can attack above the net.

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“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,” he added.

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

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

“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.”

TV5 and SMMTV-Thailand are the official television partners while Crimson Hotel serves as the official residence of this prestigious continental battle, which also is also supported by SMM Sports, Nike, Senoh, Asics, Mikasa, Foton, BMW and Price Waterhouse Cooper.

Games Saturday

(Alonte Sports Arena)

11:30 a.m. – Chinese Taipei vs Malaysia

1:30 p.m. – Opening Ceremony

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2:30 p.m. – Philippines vs Hongkong

5 p.m. – Indonesia vs Kazakhstan

7 p.m. – North Korea vs Iran

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