THREE-time champion RC Cola Army looks to be the team to beat in the Philippine Super Liga All Filipino Conference in the eyes of rival coaches and squads.
Coach George Pascua of the defending champs Petron was the first to point that the veteran-laden Lady Troopers remain the league’s top contender.
“Lahat naman malalakas kasi sa skill level pare-pareho lang naman, depende na lang sa player. Pero tingin ko pinakamalakas Army,” he said during the press conference on Thursday at Centerstage in MOA.
The Lady Troopers parade an intact lineup led by veteran setter Tina Salak, Jovelyn Gonzaga, Nene Bautista, and Michelle Carolino, which is only bolstered by the return of Rachel Anne Daquis, who suited up for Petron for two conferences. But Army coach Kungfu Reyes played down the title-favorite tag.
“Kung ‘yung ibang teams nag-eensayo, kami naman puro pahinga,” said Reyes. “Gradual training lang kasi hindi pwede pitpitin ang oldies.”
“Nagpa-prepare naman kami at ‘yung heart naman nila sa volleyball nandoon and ang experience. Problema lang namin ang age na tinatawag,” he added.
But despite tabbing Army as the top contender, Pascua is optimistic about his team with his new players Aiza Maizo, Bang Pineda and second overall pick CJ Rosario to fill in the void left by core players Daquis, Aby Marano (who joined the La Salle squad in F2 Logistics), and Dindin Santiago-Manabat, who’s on leave due to her pregnancy.
“Mas madali i-manage kasi mas aggressive kasi bata (ang team) at the same time napunuan namin ang best positions (na kailangan ng team) so ngayon mas madali diskartehan kasi ang bench mas young,” said the veteran mentor.
Petron will immediately engage in war against last year’s Grand Prix champion Foton at 4:00 p.m. in the main game on opening day this Saturday.
Foton will have mainstays Jaja Santiago, Angeli Araneta, Patty Orendain, Ivy Perez, Bia General, Cara Acevedo with new additions Rhea Dimaculangan and Maika Ortiz, and University of Santo Tomas standouts EJ Laure, Sisi Rondina, as well as former Arellano stars Danna Henson and Shirley Salamagos, who the team picked 6th and 14th overall, respectively, in the recent draft.
“Combination of old and new kami sa Foton, we have to work out how to blend the team kasi may bata at may matanda,” said Tornadoes assistant coach Ronald Dulay. “Pero so far, isa pa namin advantage is aggressive ang team namin and hanggang sa dulo pwede kami lumaban.”
Meanwhile, F2 Logistics will also be put to test right from the start as the Cargo Movers face retooled Cignal at 2:00 p.m.
The champion team of La Salle will banner F2 Logistics, while the core of NCAA titlist College of St. Benilde will power the HD Spikers.
Ex-La Salle team captains Paneng Mercado, Cha Cruz, Aby Marano, Ara Galang and Kim Fajardo will lead the Cargo Movers together with a mix of former and current Lady Spikers stars Mika Reyes, Cyd Demecillo, Kim Dy, Majoy Baron, and Dawn Macandili as well as Cebu hotshot Danika Gendrauli.
Cignal, on the other hand, will bank on Lady Blazers Jannine Navarro, Djanel Cheng, Jeanette Panaga and Ranya Musa, while mainstays Mela Tunay, Cherry May Vivas, Rizza Mandapat, April Hingpit and skipper Micmic Laborte complete the deadly squad.
“We will try our very best and medyo magkakakilala na ang core namin so every game magiging exciting para sa F2 so focus kami ngayon sa season,” said Cargo Movers coach Ramil de Jesus.
“Uhaw ang Cignal sa panalo and I told myself maybe this is [our] time,” said HD Spikers coach Sammy Acaylar.