MANILA, Philippines – Two squads with contrasting fates in the previous conference – Cignal and Sta. Lucia – are both brimming with optimism heading into the All-Filipino Conference of the Philippine Superliga (PSL), which fires off Tuesday at the FiLoil Flying V Centre.
Fresh from a training camp in Japan, the Cignal HD Spikers have developed into a powerhouse squad after winning the invitational conference of the PSL.
Cignal coach George Pascua is banking on his core headed by national team members Rachel Anne Daquis and Jovelyn Gonzaga as well as Honey Royse Tubino, Mylene Paat, and Steph Mercado. They have been made stronger and more competitive after facing off against some of the university and club teams in Japan.
Pascua, who guided Petron to a sweep of the All-Filipino Conference two years ago, said they will be prioritizing defense, knowing that Gonzaga, Daquis, and Tubino are all capable of carrying the load on offense.
“One thing that we learned in our training in Japan is to come up with a strong blocking and consistent reception,” said Pascua.
“Rachel, Jovelyn, Royse, and Steph can take care of our offense. It will always be there,” he added. “So we have to work hard on defense, especially our blocking and reception, to come up with a perfect team.”
Meanwhile, the Sta. Lucia Lady Realtors are also in high spirits ahead of the tournament, despite not having won a game in the Invitational Conference.
After taking a one-conference leave of absence, veteran coach Sammy Acaylar is back to guide the young Sta. Lucia squad.
A part of the coaching staff when the Philippines last won gold in the Southeast Asian Games in 1993, Acaylar believes that they are one of the heavyweights in the tournament.
“I am very confident in my team,” said Acaylar. “Yes, we were winless in the Invitationals, but it does not mean that we will be in the bottom again in the All-Filipino. We already know our lapses, and we are ready to solve it in the All-Filipino.”
Acaylar believes the presence of new recruits will tow them to victory. Former University of Connecticut star Rebecca Rivera and former Juniata College standout MJ Phillips are said to be impressive enough to dominate the league.
A close relative of singer Ariel Rivera from Ontario, Canada, Rivera plays a very fast, American brand of volleyball that perfectly complements the power and athleticism of Phillips.
Aside from them, the Lady Realtors also have some new local recruits, including University of Santo Tomas stalwarts Rica Rivera and Pam Lastimosa, as well as Shirley Salamagos and Danika Gendrauli.
“With the kind of build-up that we had, there is no way for us to go but up,” said Acaylar.
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