IT’S not going to be a breeze for Petron when it defends its title in the Philippine Super Liga Grand Prix that kicks off October 10 at the Alonte Sports Arena in Binan, Laguna.
While the Blaze Spikers kept their powerhouse roster of Dindin Santiago-Manabat, Aby Maraño, and Rachel Anne Daquis, the rest of the team that included Foton, Philips Gold, Cignal, Meralco-DLSU, returning RC Cola-Air Force, Philippine Army and new comer Team Cebu, have undergone major adjustments in the off-season to crowd out the reigning champs in the women's inter-club volleyball tournament.
After falling short in the All-Filipino Conference, Foton beefed up its lineup by signing 6-foot-4 national team mainstay and National University standout Jaja Santiago to impose a dominating frontline, while enlisting Filipino-American Kayla Williams and beach volley specialist Fiola Ceballos for added firepower.
Philips Gold is also expected to become an instant contender as it brings in a Fil-Am beauty in Lindsay Dowd to assume the playmaking chores left by Iris Tolenada, who decided to take a breather after becoming part of the coaching staff of University of Santa Clara in California.
Dowd will be supported by a bevy of strong hitters in the likes of Michelle Gumabao, Myla Pablo, and Desiree Dadang, while charming libero Melissa Gohing will be back to take care of the backline defense.
Cignal revamped its roster and tapped the services of veterans Michelle Laborte, Rizza Mandapat, April Ross Hingpit to partner with the core of the Shopinas Lady Clickers, who finished runner-up behind Petron last conference.
“What we have is a balance and very competitive field,” said PSL president Tats Suzara. “All teams are taking the Grand Prix seriously. They were very busy wheeling and dealing in the off-season in a bid to come up with a solid and unbeatable team.”
Suzara added the return of RC Cola-Air Force will completely tilt the pendulum of power away from the Blaze Spikers as the core of veteran setter Rhea Dimaculangan, Maika Ortiz, Iari Yongco, and Judy Ann Caballejo will be back after a brief absence to serve their mandatory military training.
Not to be outdone is Meralco-DLSU which parades an exciting mix of young guns in Mika Reyes, Kim Fajardo, Kim Dy, and Cyd Demecillo together with the seasoned trio of Paneng Mercado, Celine Hernandez, and the stunning Cha Cruz.
Still, everybody has to go through the defending champion Petron.
Backing up the deadly trio of Santiago-Manabat, Maraño and Daquis is the the rock-solid support crew of Mina Aganon, Ces Molina, Jen Reyes, Mayette Zapanta, and Fille Cainglet-Cayetano.
The Blaze Spikers will also represent the country in the AVC Asian Women's Club Championship in Ha Nam City in Vietnam from September 12 to 20 in a campaign that’s expected to keep the team in perfect shape in time for the new season.
“I guarantee that Petron will not surrender the crown without putting up a fight,” said Suzara, also a ranking official of the Asian Volleyball Confederation and the International Volleyball Federation. “Other teams may have stacked up their rosters, but Petron will surely fight tooth and nail to defend its crown.”
Meanwhile, the participation of three-time champion Philippine Army and Team Cebu are expected to hike the league's membership to eight teams. However, they have yet to finalize their discussion with their respective sponsors.