The 2014 Philippine Super Liga All Filipino Conference: “Ito Ang Volleyball”

GAMES ON FRIDAY* (May 16th) at the Cuneta Astrodome, Pasay City

1:00PM – Opening Ceremonies

2:00PM – (W) Air Asia-Zest vs. Cagayan Valley

4:00PM – (M) Cignal vs. Systema

On Friday (May 16th), the country’s only club volleyball league will open its doors anew at the historic Cuneta Astrodome in Pasay City as the Philippine Super Liga (PSL) ushers in a new season with an intriguing mix of personalities solidifying the sport of volleyball as the fastest growing spectator sport in the archipelago.

The Army Lady Troopers will have to dig deep for a shot at a 3rd PSL title (Photo: Jamil Buergo)

With the slogan “Ito Ang Volleyball”—inspired by the 2014 FIVB international slogan “This Is Volleyball”, the PSL’s first offering for the year is tournament that will be composed of local talents while later in the year the second offering will once again feature imports to support the competing squads.

“While the PSL is not a professional league, we are doing everything we can to professionalize the sport in terms of conduct on and off the court as well as having our players be ambassadors and ambassadresses in their own right to uplift Philippine volleyball,” explained PSL Commissioner Dr. Ian Laurel during the recent PSL General Assembly held in Mandaluyong City. “We will be adapting the new international protocols we witnessed during the (recently concluded) Asian Men’s Club Volleyball Championship (in Manila) and the participants of the league will set the standard for the sport in the country.”

A total of twelve teams—seven from the women’s division and five from the men’s division—will be taking part in this opening salvo while at least three more franchises are keen on joining the PSL by the next conference.

“The response to our inaugural staging has been overwhelming,” Laurel said. “And we can only hope to improve on that this year.”

PSL Commissioner Ian Laurel during the "Luau" (Photo: Sam Santana)

The PSL, in cooperation with official broadcast partner Solar Sports and title sponsor PLDT recently held its traditional launch party at the posh Wack Wack Golf and Country Club in Mandaluyong City and all twelve teams showed up for the “Luau”-type affair.

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It was also during the event where all the teams were shot doing creative presentations which will all be part of the expected lavish opening ceremonies this Friday.

Air Asia-Zest is the newest team to join the women’s ranks, while Instituto Estetica Manila (IEM), the Via Mare Voyagers and Cignal will be making their debuts in the men’s side, joining returning teams the Systema Smashers and the defending titlists PLDT Home TVolution (formerly PLDT MyDSL). For the ladies, all six teams from the PSL Grand Prix are still in the mix: Cignal, PLDT, Petron, RC Cola, Cagayan Valley and the Philippine Army—now under the banner of Generika pharmaceuticals.

There have been many things to report since the league’s final competition in December of last year. In the men’s division, PLDT has shaken up its line-up and is now composed of eight members of the famed Philippine Air Force team—led by national team campaigners Ran-Ran Abdilla and Jeffrey Malabanan. The reigning kings also acquired former UAAP MVP JP Torres; further giving them a boost in the frontline.

JP Torres now finds himself in the PLDT group for the 2014 PSL season (Photo: Sam Santana)

PSL Ambassador Richard Gomez transferred to Systema and will now join a juggernaut composed of UAAP stalwarts AJ Pareja, Chris Macasaet and former San Beda king lion Rocky Honrade. Team Via Mare is a collection of former player from the University of the Philippines and under former national team coach Vip Isada. The Voyagers will be parading the towering 6’6” behemoth Sam Paquiz. Cignal will have a bulk of its players coming from the NCAA and will be handled by Power Pinays Head Coach Sammy Acaylar who will delegate the coaching duties of the two-time women’s division runners-up to erstwhile assistant Michael Cariño. Emilio Aguinaldo College (EAC) scoring machine Howard Mojica—considered by many this early as a dark horse to win MVP—will lead the Cignal charge. Not much is known yet about IEM, but from what I’ve seen during the General Assembly and the Launch Party (Luau), they are smallest team in the division. That can also be deceiving, though.

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Via Mare's Sam Paquiz could very well be the tallest player at 6'6" (Photo: Sam Santana)

In the women’s side, Air Asia-Zest (henceforth known as the Flying Spikers) will be taking the tried-and-tested Ramil de Jesus system to the next level. The multi-titled De La Salle Univeristy (DLSU) Lady Spikers mentor has taken the liberty of recruiting most of his former charges led by two two-time UAAP MVPs in Maureen Penetrante-Ouano (the league’s reigning Best Quicker) and draft pick Abigail Maraño, along with two-time UAAP Finals MVP Cha Cruz to spearhead their campaign—which opens on Friday against battle-tested Cagayan Valley. With celebrity utility-spiker Michele Gumabao out of commission due to joining the hit reality TV show Pinoy Big Brother, the Flying Spikers have gone to their sister school in Bacolod—the University of St. La Salle—and brought in six-foot Royce Quijano and celebrated setter April Ross Hingpit. Gumabao—the 2013 UAAP Finals MVP—is still on the fourteen member roster and may rejoin the team once her “PBB” commitments have ceased.

"Miss Everything" returns: Cha Cruz suits up for Air Asia-Zest (Photo: Sam Santana)

Cagayan Valley has also beefed up their line-up with the drafting of the prolific Janine Marciano out of San Beda College along with former Far Eastern University (FEU) libero Charlene Gillego, Adamson University wunderkind Sheila “Bangnita” Pineda (who will be suiting up as a libero) and Lady Tamaraws veteran playmaker Gyzelle Sy—who has opted not to play in her final year in the UAAP. The Rising Suns still have their veteran core of Chie Saet, Pau Soriano, Aiza Maizo-Pontillas and skipper Angge Tabaquero.

Team Cagayan Valley with their "strange" routine (Photo: Sam Santana)

Petron snared the top pick in the draft and used it to acquire 6’2” Din-Din Santiago from the National University (NU). Santiago, along with Lady Bulldogs teammate Mina Aganon will be reunited with superstar libero Jen Reyes—acquired thru free agency—and Bomberinas teammate Sandra de los Santos—also acquired thru free agency—to help solidify the middle. PSL Ambassadress Gretchen Ho confided to me that she is still on the slow road to recovery after a having treatment on her chronically injured right shoulder and may not dive into action quite just yet.

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“I’m not in playing form yet,” the former Ateneo Lady Eagle said. “(I) just started to spike softly kanina (during the day’s training).”

PSL Ambassadress Gretchen Ho with PSL President Tats Suzara (L) and Chairman Phillip Juico (Photo: PSL)

PLDT’s distaff squad (which could be carrying the colors of PLDT Home Broadband) also beefed up their roster by adding former Katipunera Jem Ferrer and former San Sebastian queen quicker Rysabelle “Sasa” Devanadera into their fold. But unbeknownst to many, they also took the provincial route and acquired perhaps the biggest enigma of them all in former Philippine youth team standout Patty Orendain from USLS via the former teen phenom being an employee of the company after graduating last March. Orendain, who was the opposite number of UAAP MVP Alyssa Valdez at the outside hitter spot in the national youth team, looks like she even put on some muscle and could also be garnering a few awards before season’s end.

Team PLDT in between takes with their props (Photo: Sam Santana)

Generika-Army may have taken the biggest hit in terms of personnel loss as four of its grizzled warriors will be out for the season owing to duties in their jobs as soldiers. Skipper Joanne Bunag, setter Tina Salak and sisters Michelle and Mayeth Carolino are all in a special mission that leads up to their promotion in rank. Head Coach Rico de Guzman disclosed that during the upcoming PSL GP, it will be Power Pinays veteran Mary Jean Balse who will also go through the same rites of passage. The Lady Troopers, however, will still have the awesome-twosome of Rachel Anne Daquis and Jovelyn Gonzaga while they signed their draft picks Tin Agno from FEU—who will also not be back for her fifth UAAP season—and UP’s Joyce Palad. Through free agency, they brought it former UST reserve setter Sarah Jane Gonzales, but many still foresee a difficult first sortie for the two-time champions.

Team Generika-Army during their photo shoot with Solar Sports (Photo: Solar Sports Instagram acct)

Cignal has lost a bit of ceiling with the departure of Penetrante-Ouano to Air Asia-Zest. They still have seasoned centers in Michelle Datuin and Lilet Mabbayad and also the vastly improved Lut Malaluan, but the Penetrante-Ouano’s savvy and defensive sense will be hard to replace. Cebu sensation Abby Praca has shown recently that her height at the middle-hitter’s slot is hardly a factor and could spell the difference for the HD Spikers’ campaign for the crown that eluded them twice last year. The draft netted them Perpetual Help’s wicked opener Jane Diaz and free agent Michiko Castañeda, but the squad “hired” some “OJTs” for this campaign by bringing the Lady Altas’ Jamela Suyat and Jheck Dionela heir-apparent Vhima Condada, making them a quicker unit.

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The "Butterflies" of Team Cignal HD (Photo: Sam Santana)

But perhaps the biggest facelift in the women’s division has to be the RC Cola Raiders. Only former UP volleybelle Jed Montero was retained from the original line-up. Ivy Remulla has been dropped from the roster owing to work commitment issues and the drafting of former moonlighting libero Jill Gustilo is the only remnants of that “also-ran” squad in 2013. The Raiders, however, have acquired seven members of the Philippine Air Force namely: Joy Cases, Judy Caballejo, Rhea Dimaculangan, Maika Ortiz, Wendy Semana, Jennifer Manzano, Liza de Ramos and have also signed all four of their draft picks—led by third overall selection Iari Yongco (a former national team member). The team has even decided to go fourteen players deep (but only twelve will be seeing action per match) by acquiring two Davao Lady Agilas in Neneng Tapic and Angel Antpuesto.

The very lively choreography of the RC Cola Raiders (Photo: Sam Santana)

The PSL is progressing at a very rapid pace and it won’t be long before it could be referred to as the professional ranks, but not yet. It is a club competition and perhaps it can also be referred to as a commercial league. All I know is that the volleyball landscape will change anew this Friday and I enjoin everyone to be there at the Cuneta Astrodome.

Admission is free until there are still tickets to be given away—which, I’m told, are dwindling.

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Volleyball has truly become a year-long spectacle in the Philippines and we are about to witness another chapter in its evolution. See you all there.

Follow Noel Zarate on Twitter (@NoelZarate) and email sportztackle@yahoo.com

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