Philippine Super Liga: Team Line-Ups and Pre-Tournament Analysis

So today, it begins.

The first club league in the archipelago opens its doors today (July 7) at the PhilSports Arena marking a new chapter in Philippine women’s volleyball lore unfolds as the Philippine Super Liga (PSL) brings together the finest collection of talent in the history of the sport.

I am privileged to be working in the broadcast team for the official television network Solar Sports and it is truly an honor to have the opportunity to do my part in bringing this awesome experience to everyone. Joining me are long time anchorman Anthony Suntay, senior analysts Mozzy Ravena, Noreen Go and Anne Remulla with courtside gals Denise Tan, Miakka Lim and Riki Flores.

For those still crawling up from under their rocks, here’s the opening day schedule:

1:00PM Opening Ceremonies

2:00PM Petron vs. Cignal

4:00PM PLDT vs. Bingo Milyonaryo

6:00PM Philippine Army vs. Cagayan Valley

Solar Sports will air the opening festivities and first two encounters beginning 4:00PM while the third match will be shot but will not be shown on the same day. It will be included in a highlight package during the next gameday—which is on Wednesday, July 10 at the San Juan Arena. I will be working the PLDT-Bingo Milyanaryo tiff with Noreen while Anthony and Anne handle the initial Petron-Cignal duel. Denise will do the roving duties for both games.

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That being said, it appears that many aficionados are still in the dark about the final composition of the participating teams. You’re not alone, so are we. But I have enough data to actually give you at least those who have officially made the rosters. Let’s look at these now and I will do my best to break down these squads seeing action in the PSL Invitational.

Legend: S-Setter, O-Open Hitter, M-Middle Attacker/Quicker/Center, U-Utility Spiker/Opposite, L-Libero

CAGAYAN VALLEY RISING SUNS:

Joy Benito (SSC-R)

Joy Cases (CSL/LPU)

Sandra de los Santos (UPHSD)

Liza de Ramos (?)

Dianna Diaz (CSL)

Jheck Dionela (UPHSD)

Sarah Espelita (CSL)

Vec Mangui (NU)

Jen Manzano (DLS-D)

Sheila Pineda (AdU)

Alarnie Puylong (?)

Wendy Semana (FEU)

Head Coach: Nes Pamilar

Projected Starters:

S-Semana

O-Mangui

O-Benito

M-De Los Santos

M-Manzano

U-Cases

L-Dionela

Not the tallest team, but definitely one that packs a lot of experience with a good mixture of youth and veterans. This is probably the team that had to undergo the biggest facelift among all the competitors as its original line-up had about four players from FEU, but since the school disallowed their regular players to compete the Rising Suns had to scamper for talent almost at the eleventh hour.

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Former FEU Head Coach Nes Pamilar—probably the best setter in the history of Philippine volleyball—will now have to rely on his former charge Wendy Semana to carry the load as the lone setter for the squad, like she did when the Lady Tamaraws won the UAAP crown in 2008. This time, Semana has a multitude of targets at her disposal such as the prolific Vec Mangui (who once led the UAAP in scoring despite playing for a Lady Bulldogs squad that never cracked the Final Four in her entire tenure), open hitters Joy Benito and Joy Cases still have the hops and power to infiltrate defenses while the late addition of Lady Perps standouts Sandra de los Santos and Jheck Dionela give the Rising Suns a different dimension at the center and libero spots, respectively. I haven’t even mentioned the high-flying Bang Pineda and Sarah Espelita as well as the veteran leadership of former Philippine Air Force ace Liza de Ramos.

If the Cagayan Valley personnel can mesh with each other sooner than later, then they may just live up to Army quicker Mary Jean Balse’s forecast of them being the team to beat.

CIGNAL HD

Hezzy Mae Acuña (RTU)

Rapril Aguilar (SWU)

Arianne Argarin (UPHSD)

©Venus Bernal (UST)

Arlene Bernardo (PCU)

Michelle Datuin (DLSU)

Rosan Fajardo (CSL/CSB)

Danika Gendrauli (SWU)

Mariel Legaspi (DLS-D)

Ronalyn Manzano (PCU)

Jen Reyes (NU)

April Sartin (UPHSD)

Michelle Tagudin (RTU)

Zharmaine Velez (CSB)

Head Coach: Sammy Acaylar

Projected Starters:

S-Legaspi

O-Bernal

O-Sartin

M-Datuin

M-Tagudin

U-Fajardo

L-Reyes

Another brilliant collection of talent combining youngsters with old guns; and what old guns former Bomberinas Head Coach Sammy Acaylar has in the multi-titled and multi-awarded Venus Bernal (who physically still looks the same as when she last played in 2008) and former DLSU face-of-the-franchise Michelle Datuin. Add to this, Jen Reyes (easily the best libero in the country today) as well as 5’3” open-hitter April Sartin—yes, the "Pintsized Phenom" herself. This team has ceiling with RTU’s double pagoda connection of Michelle Tagudin and Hezzy Mae Acuña joining Datuin in fortifying a Cignal wall plus Zhar Velez; who gave a good account of herself with the Lady Blazers not too long ago.

However, the setting department will be under the microscope as the very young Arianne Argarin and Mariel Legaspi will have to show their teammates that they can conduct Acaylar’s offense effectively. Bernal and Reyes are still the keys to victory, though. If Reyes can give enough clean looks off of her receptions for the young setters to execute, then Bernal will have a field day—as she has always had. They will immediately be tested against crowd favourite Petron on opening day.

PCSO-BINGO MILYONARYO BOLERAS

Michele Gumabao (DLSU)

April Jose (FEU)

Mic-Mic Laborte (USLS)

Carla Lllaguno (DLSU)

Hazel Magpantay (AMACC)

Stephanie Mercado (DLSU)

Maica Morada (FEU)

Iris Ortega-Patrona (DLSU)

Sher Peñano (DLSU)

Maureen Penetrante (DLSU)

Ivy Remulla (DLSU)

Chi Saet (DLSU)

Cecille Tabuena (USLS)

Giza Yumang (CSB)

Head Coach: Ronald Dulay

Projected Starters:

S-Saet

O-Mercado

O-Patrona

M-Penetrante

M-Laborte

U-Gumabao

L-Peñano

I mean holy cow right?

I can’t even begin to fathom how the legendary icons of DLSU women's volleyball came together and temporarily set aside personal obligations for another shot at glory—something most these women were so familiar with during the turn of the millennium; taking down UAAP and Shakey’s V-League titles almost at will. The immediate star the fans of today will recognize and cheer for is obviously the reigning UAAP Finals MVP Michele Gumabao. After formally forgoing her final year of eligibility for the defending UAAP champs, Gumabao now joins a phalanx of the best her former school has ever produced.

The biggest advantage the Boleras have working for them is their unreal frontline defense.

Look at it.

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Gumabao is a 2-time UAAP Best Blocker recipient—which is quite an achievement for a UTILITY SPIKER. She is joined on the floor by Maureen Penetrante—a two time UAAP MVP who made noise in the 2005 SEA Games for her defensive abilities. Speaking of defensive abilities, volleyball demigod Mic-Mic Laborte—who is probably the best defensive specialist of all-time—will also see a lot of time at center. They still have Ivy Remulla, who is still the lean and mean presence up front. I haven’t even mentioned that the great Chi Saet is the starting setter and the iconic Sher Peñano is the libero. How about offense? Check out a two-pronged attack from open hitters Paneng Mercado and her former FEU rival Maica Morada. There’s still CSB’s leading scorer Giza Yumang to look after.

This is a complete team and Head Coach Ronald Dulay’s biggest concern now is who to start and who to bring off the bench. The ANIMO fans will be on their feet for this squad, that’s for sure.

PETRON LADY BOOSTERS

Kara Acevedo (AdMU)

Karla Bello (AdMU)

Judy Ann Caballejo (UST)

Fille Cainglet (AdMU)

Jessica Curato (UST)

Rhea Dimaculangan (UST)

Melissa Gohing (DLSU)

Gretchen Ho (AdMU)

Maika Ortiz (UST)

Aiza Maizo-Pontillas (UST)

Roxanne Pimentel (UST)

Charo Soriano (AdMU)

Angeli Tabaquero (UST)

Joanna Torrijos (UST)

Head Coach: Vilet Ponce de Leon

Projected Starters:

S-Dimaculangan

O-Cainglet

O-Tabaquero

M-Pimentel

M-Soriano

U-Maizo-Pontillas

L-Gohing

Yes, folks your eyes aren’t fooling you: it’s a merger between UST and Ateneo.

I’ve always said that Vilet Ponce de Leon will make an excellent head coach one day. Today is that day. Being the only female coach in the league (as of now), de Leon is the best mentor to these girls from UST—whom she has molded from the beginning—and the stars of the Lady Eagles; who are truly THE stars of that program with former UAAP Rookie of the Year Kara Acevedo, former UAAP Best Scorer and Best Receiver (and former Ateneo Head Coach) Charo Soriano, former skippers in Karla Bello, Gretchen Ho and Fille Cainglet (who combined must have close to a million Twitter followers).

The Tigresses in the brood are also lethal. 6’2” Roxanne Pimentel will rekindle her role as primary scare-factor provider with her hulking presence in the middle that led to her winning a UAAP MVP award. Angge Tabaquero can still fire those wicked spikes as evidenced by her stint as captain of the Bomberinas. Rhea “DMac” Dimaculangan is a former UAAP Finals MVP who still sets and serves like it's Armageddon while Maika Ortiz and another former UAAP MVP (Beahc Volleyball) Judy Ann Caballejo still know how to obliterate defenses. Oh, and by the way, Aiza Maizo-Pontillas (perhaps one of the greatest opposite hitters of all-time) is one hundred percent back in game-shape. Beware.

However, it was the signing of DLSU star libero Melissa Gohing just a couple of days ago that set the world ablaze for the supporters of what is shaping up to be the crowd-darlings of the league. Gohing—who was originally scheduled to audition as a courtside reporter for the league—was confiding to me that she had not played since the UAAP ended and that she was busy balancing the completion of her Masters’ degree and her new job. Her joining Petron now reunites her with former Palarong Pambansa teammate Cainglet and creates an unlikely union between her and the team she helped defeat for the UAAP championship.

PHILIPPINE ARMY LADY TROOPERS

Jac Alarca (DLSU)

Mary Jean Balse (UST)

Nerissa Bautista (USA)

Joanne Bunag (FEU)

Mayeth Carolino (CSL)

Michelle Carolino (CSL)

Dahlia Cruz (LPU)

Jovelyn Gonzaga (USLS)

©Melody Gutierrez (FEU)

Ers Iratay (FEU)

Angela Nunag (RTU)

Genie Sabas (USJ-R)

Tina Salak (UST)

Sha-Sha Siatan-Torres (FEU)

Head Coach: Rico de Guzman

Projected Starters:

S-Salak

O-Michelle Carolino

O-Bautista

M-Bunag

M-Balse

U-Mayeth Carolino

L-Siatan-Torres

Despite all the words I just wrote above, the squad affectionately known as Hukbong Katihan ng Pilipinas or the Philippine ARMY Lady Troopers, for short, is still considered by many experts as the team to beat.

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This assemblage of at least seven former national team members (to my knowledge: Balse, Bautista, the Carolino sisters, Iratay, Salak and Siatan-Torres), at least one former UAAP MVP (Alarca) and the talents of two of the most underrated players today (Gonzaga and Cruz) still makes this perhaps the most talent-laden ensemble in the league—on paper.

Their clearest advantage: familiarity.

These ladies have been training together for at least five years now. Most of them are actually enlisted personnel. Head Coach Rico de Guzman is an Army Sergeant. They not only play together, they train to help protect the country together. It’s that kind of camaraderie, unity and mental toughness that make the Lady Troopers a tough match-up. The downside? They're the oldest team in the league--on paper.

But what is volleyball really about? Is it about taking your opponents into a speed match? An endurance match, even? Or is it about outsmarting the opposition? Unfortunately, the Lady Troopers are stacked in all those aspects…

PLDT MyDSL

Angela Benting (AdU)

Leuseht Dawis (UE)

Gianes Dolar (USLS)

Wenneth Eulalio (FEU)

Lizlee Ann Gata-Pantone (AdU)

Russel Jalbuna (SSC-R)

©Lou Ann Latigay (SSC-R)

May Macatuno (AdU)

Charmaine Moralde (AdU/USLS)

Des Patilano (AdU)

Dafna Robiños (SSC-R)

Pau Soriano (AdU)

Rosemarie Vargas (FEU)

Head Coach: Francis Vicente

Projected Starters:

S-Macatuno

O-Latigay

O-Benting

M-Soriano

M-Eualalio

U-Vargas/Dawis

L-Gata-Pantone

This is the squad I picked as the dark horse of the tournament—and not because they have @Horsemariepower (Vargas) in the line-up.

This is an almost perfect blend of just the right amount of star power from Adamson and just the right amount of star power from San Sebastian seasoned with a dash of FEU and sprinkled with a pinch of Negrense power and a UE skipper—which must be cooked to perfection by former NU Head Coach Francis Vicente.

Six-time NCAA champion Lou Ann Latigay is listed as the captain, but it appears she may share that duty with wunderkind libero Lizlee Ann Gata-Pantone (incidentally, both do have day jobs at PLDT). The biggest concern here is who to start. Vicente has three powerful senior open-hitters in captain Latigay, Angela Benting and the aforementioned Vargas, while more arsenal in Russell Jalbuna and Cha Moralde await their entry from the bench.

Although they have height in the middle from Dafna Robiños and Gianes Dolar, their projected starters in Pau Soriano and Wenneth Eulalio may be dwarfed by other squads, except probably Cagayan Valley. There may also be a power struggle in the setting front with Macatuno, who is again reunited with Des Patilano; the player whose starting job she once claimed over at Adamson.

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But if Vicente can find that combination, this PLDT MyDSL team might just pull off a few surprises against teams that may look to have an upper hand. PLDT MyDSL may look like the youngest team in the heap, but it’s definitely not lacking in winning experience and winning attitude.

CONCLUSIONS:

As foretold, I think the Philippine Army is still the favourite due to their immense advantage in familiarity with one another. Bingo Milyonaryo comes close to that, but the former DLSU queens have to climb to a higher level immediately if they want to jump out ahead. For Petron, the Ateneo alumni will have to get used to Coach Vilet’s system quickly and have to rear Gohing back into game-shape—both physically and mentally. PLDT MyDSL has all the right tools, but are they assembled correctly enough to be a scene-stealer? Bernal, Reyes and Datuin will be the engine of Cignal, but will that be enough to overcome certain obstacles along the way?Cagayan Valley is just now coming together. We all know they can win this whole thing, but it might not just be up to them this time.

The Lady Troopers can’t fall into complacency, though. That could be disastrous. This is a short tournament. One screw-up could end a campaign.

On paper, it appears that we’ll be in for dandy beginning today. But as the great Coach Ron Jacobs once said, “…games are not played on paper.”

These games won't, that's for sure.

Do I really have to bring a suit to PhilSports? The air-conditioning there will be at a severe disadvantage against the expected influx of rabid fanatics. I expect to lose my hearing for a bit and thousands of people may require professional help after being hoarse over the course of screaming for more than six hours.

Three games, one anticipated event.

Welcome to your Philippine Super Liga.

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

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