AFTER breezing through the double-round eliminations, heavyweights Philips Gold and Petron seek to move closer to the title in the sudden-death semifinals of the 2015 Philippine Superliga (PSL) Grand Prix women's volleyball tournament on Thursday at The Arena in San Juan.
The Lady Slammers, topnotchers in the 10-game preliminaries, battle Foton at 4 p.m. while the Blaze Spikers collide with Cignal in the 6 p.m. second game of this explosive double-header presented by Asics and backed by Mio with Senoh, Mueller and Mikasa as technical partners and TV5 as official broadcaster.
Billed as team to beat for assembling a rock-solid roster built around American imports Bojana Todorovic and Alexis Olgard along with star spiker Myla Pablo, Philips Gold took the tournament by storm by finishing with an 8-2 win-loss card at the end of the eliminations.
One of its two setbacks, however, came at the hands of Foton, which hung tough down the stretch to preserve a nail-biting 25-14, 25-22, 18-25, 25-18 victory in the second round last November 5, making their much-anticipated semis duel very unpredictable.
The winners advance to the best-of-three finals starting next week.
“There's no clear favorite,” said Philips Gold coach Francis Vicente. “We can't say that we're the underdogs because we topped the eliminations. At the same time, we can't say that they are the underdogs because they beat us in the second round. I think this is going to be a very exciting encounter.”
Vicente added that his main concern is how to match the ceiling of the Tornadoes, who are bannered by three six-footers in imports Katie Messing, Lindsay Stalzer, and Jaja Santiago.
“They are tall and they are very good both on defense and offense,” he said. “But I told the team not to get intimidated. We will win not because of height or skills, but because we have the heart and desire to beat them.”
Todorovic, a former member of the United States juniors national team who led University of California in Los Angeles to a US NCAA Division I title in 2011, and Olgard remain healthy as well as locals Michelle Gumabao, Mel Gohing, Desiree Dadang and Pablo, who missed their previous game against Petron due to some pressing school commitments.
“Everybody is ready to go,” Vicente added, anticipating another loud and jampacked crowd at the venue. “We already put everything that happened in the elimination round behind. The semifinals is just one game. We have to be at our best to reach our ultimate goal.”
Like Philips Gold, Petron is also being extremely cautious.
The Blaze Spikers, who ruled the previous Grand Prix and represented the country in the AVC Asian Women's Club Championship last September, is not taking Cignal for granted.
“Cignal knows what it takes to win big games,” said Petron coach George Pascua, who will bank on Brazilians Rupia Inck and Erica Adachi as well as local hitters Dindin Manabat, Aby Marano, Rachel Anne Daquis, Maica Morada and Ces Molina.
“They play great defense both at the net and on the floor. We have to find a way to penetrate that defensive wall and hope that the offensive games of Rupia, Dindin, and Aby will finally click. We will study them carefully, that's for sure.”
Cignal coach Sammy Acaylar agreed, adding that the semis is an entirely different story.
“We will re-visit the things we did when we beat them in the first round,” he said. “The semis is anybody's ballgame. Mahirap mag-kumpyansa. Bilog ang bola.”