WITH the semifinal cast complete, heavyweights Philips Gold and Cignal clash for the solo lead as the double-round eliminations of the 2015 Philippine Superliga Grand Prix women's volleyball tournament enters its final stretch at The Arena in San Juan.
The Slammers and HD Spikers clash on Thursday at 4 p.m. before the encounter between Foton and also-ran RC Cola-Air Force at 6 p.m.
After pulling off an emphatic straight-set conquest of RC Cola-Air Force last Tuesday, Philips Gold joined reigning champion Petron and Cignal in a three-way tie on top of the team standings with a 6-2 win-loss mark while shoving the Raiders out of title contention together with winless Meralco.
Semifinalists Petron, Cignal, Philips Gold and Foton will now be using their remaining matches to determine their placing in the knockout matches next week.
"As much as possible, we're trying to avoid Petron in the semis," said Philips Gold coach Francis Vicente after completing their 28-26, 25-19, 25-15 win over RC Cola-Air Force.
"The semis is just a one-game affair. That's where experience and cohesiveness will come into play. Petron is the reigning champion and has an international experience. We really have to win our remaining games to avoid them in the next round."
Vicente stressed that although they are more comfortable playing Cignal in the semis, they will still not take the HD Spikers for granted, especially since they have a pair of powerful imports in Ariel Usher and Amanda Anderson as well as the league's finest defenders in Cherry Vivas, Fritz Gallenero and libero Jheck Dionela.
In fact, Cignal's discipline and elite reception were in full display that allowed Usher and Anderson to pepper the defense with booming kills in the deciding set of their heart-stopping 15-25, 25-15, 25-17, 19-25, 16-14 victory over Philips Gold in the first round.
It was the Lady Slammers' first match of the conference and Vicente said they already learned their lesson as they went on to win their next four matches.
"It served as a motivation to the team," he said. "Unlike Petron which has a lot of offensive weapons, Cignal makes a living out of its defense. We have to stop that. We have to come up with a game plan that will take their defenders away from their comfort zone while stopping the attacks of Usher and Anderson."
Tipped to lead the Lady Slammers' assault are imports Bojana Todorovic and Alexis Olgard as well as the vastly-improved Myla Pablo, who started out slow before finish the night with a 10-hit performance against the Raiders.
Michelle Gumabao, Desiree Dadang and Melissa Gohing are also expected to step up to provide defensive intensity against Usher and Anderson in the tournament presented by Asics and backed by Milo with Mueller, Mikasa and Senoh as technical partners and TV5 as official broadcaster.