LIPA CITY - Another big crowd is expected to watch the league's hottest teams - Petron and Foton - clash in a crucial encounter when the 2015 Philippine Superliga (PSL) Grand Prix women's volleyball tournament rolls to De La Salle-Lipa Sentrum in this bustling city on Saturday.
Battle starts at 1 p.m. while cellar-dwellers RC Cola-Air Force and Meralco collide at 3 p.m. for nothing but pride in this prestigious inter-club tourney presented by Asics and backed by Milo with Senoh, Mueller and Mikasa as technical partners.
Billed as the strongest team for having a solid roster built around Dindin Manabat, Aby Marano and Rachel Anne Daquis as well as for its international experience after competing in the AVC Asian Women's Club Championship recently, the Blaze Spikers had a slow start before zooming to an incredible four-game winning streak.
With that, Petron assumed the second spot with a 6-2 mark, a mere half game behind powerhouse Philips Gold which is also peaking with a 7-2 slate entering the crucial stage of the double-round eliminations.
Not far behind are Foton and Cignal, which are tied at 6-3.
Based on the league format, the topnotcher in the eliminations will face the fourth seed while the second seed battles the third seed in a one-game, sudden-death semifinal battle next week, making the last two playing days of the elimination round critical.
The survivors of the semis go on to clash in a best-of-three titular showdown starting on November 26.
"It's anybody's ballgame," said Petron coach George Pascua, the former Far Eastern University spiker who is looking to win his third straight title with the Blaze Spikers.
"The semifinals is just a one-game affair; one miss and you die. That's why we need to win our last two games (against Foton and Philips Gold) to gather enough momentum for the semis. We can't think of the semis right now. Our focus still remains on the elimination round."
But sweeping its last two games won't be a cakewalk for Petron.
Foton, a side that draws firepower from veteran import Lindsay Stalzer and Katie Messing, is also riding the crest of a four-game winning streak, including an impressive straight-set conquest of RC Cola-Air Force, 25-21, 25-21, 25-19, late Thursday.
Foton coach Villet Ponce-de Leon bared that the Tornadoes are eager to go all out, not only to avenge their bitter five-set loss to Petron in the first round, but also to make a serious run at the crown after falling short in the semifinals in the previous All-Filipino Conference.
"We are ready to face anybody. We treat them equally. Walang pwedeng balewalain," Ponce-de Leon said. "We're still in full force and we are ready to go all out in our last few games in the eliminations. We need to close the eliminations with a win so the team will be positive in the semis."
Ponce-de Leon added that aside from Stalzer and Messing, Jaja Santiago is also expected to step up to match the firepower of her sister, Manabat, from the middle position.
Santiago has been playing well lately, the last a 15-hit effort against a tough-defending RC Cola-Air Force team led by Puerto Rican national team member Lynda Morales and Kansas University star Sara McClinton.