REIGNING Philippine Superliga (PSL) Grand Prix champion Petron leaves for Vietnam in high spirits as it flies the flag in the 16th AVC Asian Women's Club Volleyball Championship at the Ha Nam Competition Hall in Phu Ly, Vietnam starting this weekend.
Fresh from a flawless campaign in the PSL All-Filipino Conference, the Blaze Spikers faves a test in the international stage as they battle the finest club teams in Asia in this top-flight tourney that offers a ticket to the FIVB World Women's Club Volleyball Championship next year.
But the Blaze Spikers are expected to face an uphill battle early in the classification stage as they are stacked in Group B together with Islamic Azad University of Iran, 4.25 Sports Club of North Korea, Zhejiang of China and powerhouse Hisamitsu Seiyaku Springs of Japan - the two-time champion which brings back lefty spiker Miyu Nagaoka, Risa Shinabe and Nana Iwasaka.
Group A, meanwhile, consists of Thong Tin Lienvietpostbank of the host country, Taiwan Power of Chinese Taipei, Zhetyssu of Kazakhstan and Southeast Asian favorite Bangkok Glass bannered by Pleumjit Thinkaow, Wilavan Apinyapong, Jarasporn Bandasak and rising star Pornpon Guedpard setting the plays.
“It's going to be a tough battle from start to finish,” said Petron coach George Pascua, who is no longer a stranger to big-time competitions after serving as national player before becoming one of the assistant coaches in the 23rd Southeast Asian Games in Manila in 2005.
“The best and brightest club teams in Asia will be there. It is really an honor to represent the Philippines in a competition as prestigious as this. So, we will return the favor by playing our hearts out and treating every single match as if our lives are on the line.”
PSL president Ramon ‘Tats’ Suzara, for his part, said Petron is very capable of pulling off surprises against the giant teams of Asia.
The Blaze Spikers will also use the tournament as exposure in their preparation for this year's edition of the PSL Grand Prix, which unwraps on October 10 at the Alonte Sports Arena in Binan, Laguna.
“It may be a highly-competitive field, but Petron has what it takes to pull off a pleasant surprise,” said Suzara, who also serves as chairman of the marketing and development committee of the AVC and FIVB.
“The entire Superliga family is looking forward to an impressive performance from the Blaze Spikers. We know they can make it.”
Tapped to power the Blaze Spikers are a pair of Brazilian reinforcements in former junior national team member Rupia Inck and Erika Adachi, who is making her return after teaming up with American Alaina Bergsma in towing Petron to the PSL Grand Prix crown last year.
Also tipped to make an impact are the seasoned troika of Aby Marano, Rachel Anne Daquis, and Dindin Manabat and the solid support crew of Jen Reyes, Frances Molina, Acy Masangkay, Mina Aganon, Mayette Zapanta, Jozza Cabalsa, Maica Morada, and Fille Cayetano.
Pascua said the experience of Marano, Daquis and Manabat - who are all part of the team that competed in the 28th Southeast Asian Games in Singapore - should play a crucial role in their campaign.
“We will be banking on their experience,” he said. “The girls are all ready. We have prepared hard for this so rest assured that we will not go down without putting up a fight.”