AS the Reinforced conference champion Petro Gazz begins life without super imports Wilma Salas and Janisa Johnson, head coach Arnold Laniog reminds doubters not to count them out in the Premier Volleyball League Season 3 Open Conference, which starts on August 10.
“There’s a lot of bashers nga na (nanalo lang kami) because of the imports. Challenge sa mga locals ‘to,” said Laniog in the team’s championship press conference on Tuesday in a restaurant along EDSA Santolan.
“But yung na-gain namin na mental toughness and yung play (our hearts out) siguro malaking bagay talaga yun. Hindi kami nagsasabi ng tapos but magpeperform kami on our best,” he added.
Petro Gazz team manager Camille Cruz also assured that the Angels are not just contented with just one championship.
“We didn’t form this team to just win one game, first runner-up, of course the goal is always to win the championship,” Cruz said. “The management is all out to support and to give its best for the players kasi gusto namin sila maalagaan ng mabuti for them to play at their best.”
Best Foreign Guest Player Salas and Finals MVP Johnson lifted the Angels back from losing Game One as they played their hearts out in Game Two to force a decider, which took place less than 24 hours and at the Ynares Sports Center in Antipolo City.
The Cuban and American tandem combined for 53 points in Game 3 and with the help of the locals Petro Gazz dethroned erstwhile champion Creamline last Sunday for the franchise’s first championship.
Now that they won their first title in the Reinforced Conference, the next challenge for the Angels is to prove that their first champioship reign is no fluke.
Stephanie Mercado, playing the same position with Johnson, will regain her starting spot and play more game in the Open Conference.
Jeanette Panaga, Cherry Nunag, Jonah Sabete, setter Djanel Cheng and libero Cienne Cruz, who were all instrumental in their recent title run, are up for the challenge.
“Yung championship na nakuha namin ngayong conference mas magpapatatag sa amin, mas magpapalakas sa amin,” said Nunag, who was Reinforced Conference’s 2nd Best Middle Blocker. “We want more! Ang sarap ng ganitong pakiramdam. Sino bang aayaw na maramdaman to ulit? Para sa amin ibibigay namin lahat ng kaya naming ibigay. Magpupursige pa lalo kami.“
Cienne, the team manager’s twin sister and the reigning Open Conference Best Libero, expressed that all of them are still hungry to win despite still having the cloud nine feeling of their first championship.
“No room to relax kasi we got the championship. So for the next conference, we know na may paparating din na new teams,” Cruz said. “I guess yung experience din na nakuha namin this conference, we’ll bring it to the next conference especially yung determination ng mga local players. Pagpapaguran talaga namin.”
Laniog added that Finals rival Creamline is still the team to beat in the Open Conference with its star-studded locals bannered by three-time MVP Alyssa Valdez, four-time Best Setter Jia Morado, Risa Sato, Michele Gumabao, Jema Galanza and libero Mel Gohing.
“Creamline pa rin dahil yung local nila are very intact and yung gigil nila gagamitin nila para makabawi talaga,” he said.
Besides Creamline, the Petro Gazz coach said that Reinforced Conference bronze medalist Pacifictown-Army and Open Conference third placer BanKo also emerge as the threats among other teams like Motolite, BaliPure, returning club Air Force and new comer Choco Mucho.
But Laniog believes that his locals could prove themselves, win a Grand Slam by making another big leap from last year’s fourth place finish this Open Conference
“Mas malaki yung challenge sa amin but I know naman na our local players are talagang ready to embrace the challenge,” he said.