THREE out of the eight teams will parade an import but coaches insisted those reinforced squads are not guaranteed a spot in the Final Four in the Shakey’s V-League Reinforced Conference, which kicks off on Saturday.
Open Conference champion Pocari Sweat tapped American imports Andrea Kactsits and Breanna Mackie, while Bali Pure got the services of Kaylee Manns and Katharine Morrell from the USA, and Bureau of Customs is parading Thai reinforcements Kanjana Kuthaisong and Natthanicha.
Philippine Coast Guard, Philippine Air Force, Laoag, and collegiate teams University of Santo Tomas and University of the Philippines opted to go all-Filipino. UP wanted to tap Thai imports but the team failed to secure the required playing documents.
“Sa team na may mga imports, we’re not really a shoo-in for the Final Four or for the Finals. Kasi this is really a competitive team so regardless kung may import or walang import, we’re gonna fight, we’re gonna give it our best every single game,” said Pocari coach Rommel Abella, who coaches a team with an intact core of Michele Gumabao, Myla Pablo, Ellaine Kasilag, Desiree Dadang, Mel Gohing and Gyzelle Sy.
“Hindi naman ganoon ang mangyayari na kahit may import ka, lamang ka,” BoC coach Sherwin Meneses agreed.
Meneses, however, noted that their strength as a team does not depend solely on having foreign players. Aside from the imports, he will rely on former Ateneo star Alyssa Valdez, Adamson’s Fenela Emnas, returning Arellano spiker Menchie Tubiera, and National University alum Rizza Mandapat.
“Ang advantage lang siguro namin is mas experienced ang players namin. Lahat namn siguro ng team nag-prepare eh so magiging parehas lang ang mga laban,” he said.
Open Conference runner up Air Force and UST will tangle at 6:00 p.m. for the main game, while Laoag and Coast Guard will square off at 4:00 p.m.
Towering middle blocker Dell Palomata is back with the Jet Spikers together with veterans Judy Ann Caballejo, Joy Cases, May Ann Pantino, Jennifer Manzano and Wendy Semana.
UST, on the other hand, will bank on returning skipper Pam Lastimosa, who recovered from an ACL injury, and an intact core of Sisi Rondina, EJ Laure, Ria Meneses and Chloe Cortez.
Meanwhile, the Power Smashers had a recruiting coup and tapped San Sebastian College ace spiker Grethcel Soltones and libero Alyssa Eroa and NU hitters Jorelle Singh and Aiko Urdas to team up with Adamson spiker Jessica Galanza, Arellano standout Jovelyn Prado and former Far Eastern University attacker Wenneth Eulalio.
Former Pocari Sweat players Hazel Mea and Maureen Loren transferred to Coast Guard.
Bali Pure lost Valdez but retained Ella de Jesus, Amy Ahomiro, Dzi Gervacio, Jem Ferrer, Charo Soriano, Denden Lazaro and Mae Tajima.
Despite losing its Thai imports, UP remained optimistic on its campaign with Nicole Tiamzon, Kathy Bersola, Isa Molde, Diana Carlos, Justine Dorog and Marian Buitre leading the charge.
“[We play] with the objective of qualifying for the Finals and to make the girls have the feel what it’s like to be in a championship, but there has been a problem with documentation so we like to keep it clean and safe so now naiba ‘yung mindset namin,” said UP team manager Cecile Ronquillo.
“Now we’re here to get as much experience that the girls can get from the very strong and competitive teams and then move on to the UAAP,” she added.