Focus on powerhouse Cignal, revamped Sta. Lucia as PSL All-Filipino Conference opens
Jovelyn Gonzaga and the HD Spikers look to claim the top spot this time. Jerome Ascano

FOCUS will be on Cignal and Sta. Lucia, two squads that had contrasting fates in the previous conference, as the Philippine Superliga All-Filipino Conference fires off this week at the FilOil Flying V Center in San Juan.

Named co-champion in the Invitational Conference as the best-placed local team, the HD Spikers have retained their core of Rachel Anne Daquis and Jovelyn Gonzaga, Honey Royse Tubino, Mylene Paat and Steph Mercado.

The team coached by George Pascua also underwent training in Japan, playing against several university and club teams.

“One thing that we learned in our training in Japan is to come up with a strong blocking and consistent reception,” said Pascua, architect of Petron’s back-to-back titles.

“Rachel, Jovelyn, Royse, Janine and Steph can take care of our offense. It will always be there. So we have to work hard on defense, especially our blocking and reception, to come up with a perfect team.”

Pascua’s optimism is being shared by the Lady Realtors, who failed to win a single match in the Invitational Conference.

After taking a one-conference leave of absence, seasoned mentor Sammy Acaylar is back as the young Sta. Lucia squad hopes to rise this time.

Acaylar, part of the coaching staff when the Philippines last won the gold medal in the Southeast Asian Games in 1993, believes that with new recruits the team has what it takes to challenge for the title.

Sta. Lucia now has former University of Connecticut star Rebecca Rivera and former Juniata College standout MJ Phillips.

“I am very confident with my team,” said Acaylar.

Sta. Lucia is grouped with powerhouse Cignal, Petron and F2 Logistics.

“Yes, we were winless in the Invitationals, but it doesn’t mean that we will be at the bottom again in the All-Filipino. We already know our lapses (in the Invitationals) and we are ready to solve it in the All-Filipino.”

A relative of singer Ariel Rivera from Ontario, Canada, Rivera is used to fast-paced plays, while Phillipes is described as a powerful athletic player.

The Lady Realtors also have University of Sto. Tomas stalwarts Rica Rivera and Pamela Lastimosa as well as Shirley Salamagos and Danika Gendrauli.

“With the kind of buildup that we had, there’s no way for us to go but up,” Acaylar said. The tournament is backed by by Belo, Rebisco, Asics, Mikasa, Senoh and Mueller with TV5 as official broadcast partner.


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