Heavyweights RC Cola Army and Petron Collide

Cignal guns for a highly-crucial victory while heavyweights RC Cola-Army and Petron collide as third round action of the 2016 PLDT Home Ultera Philippine Superliga (PSL) Invitational Conference women’s volleyball tournament heats up Thursday at the FilOil Flying V Center in San Juan.

The HD Spikers clash with also-ran Foton at 6 pm while the Lady Troopers tangle with the Tri-Activ Spikers at 4 pm in a battle royale between the winningest clubs in this tourney backed by Senoh, Mikasa, Asics, Mueller and Grand Sport with TV5 as official broadcast partner.

Bannered by the College of Saint Benilde troika of Jeanette Panaga, Janine Navarro and Djanel Cheng, Cignal is in dire need of a win to keep its head above water and join the Lady Troopers and EST COLA from Thailand in the final round that fires off on April 7.

With their backs against the wall, the HD Spikers came up with some defensive gems before Cheng connected a pair of service aces to complete a heart-stopping 18-25, 25-13, 25-19, 20-25, 15-12 victory over erstwhile undefeated Tri-Activ Spikers late Tuesday at the jampacked Imus Sports Complex in Imus, Cavite.

Panaga had a game-high 18 points highlighted by eight of the team’s 12 blocks while Navarro tallied 12 kills and two blocks to finish with 16 points for the HD Spikers, who need to sweep their remaining games against Foton and RC Cola-Army to formalize their entry to the next round.

“It was all about heart and mental toughness,” said Cignal coach Sammy Acaylar. “But this win will be worthless if we will not sweep our remaining games. We still have to work hard and do our homework if we want to advance to the next round.”

But marching to the final round will not be a cakewalk as Cignal has to overcome a seasoned Foton side which will be playing for nothing but pride after getting eliminated also last Tuesday.

The Toplander were clobbered by the Lady Troopers, 25-21, 25-17, 25-23, but it didn’t dampen their morale as they want to win their remaining couple of games to make a graceful exit shortly after winning the Grand Prix crown last year.

“We will still play with the same level of intensity, the same level of competitiveness that we’ve shown when we won the (Grand Prix) title last year,” said Foton coach Villet Ponce-de Leon. “We are a veteran team. We will do everything to score a win or two before bidding the tournament goodbye.”

Ponce-de Leon is tipped to call on her vastly experienced crew of Maika Ortiz, Rhea Dimaculangan, Ivy Remulla and Angeli Tabaquero, who is playing libero as she recovers from an injury. Rising stars like Patty Orendain, Angeli Araneta and Danna Henson are also expected to be deployed to challenge the defense of Panaga, Navarro and veteran Michelle Laborte at the net.

Also expected to attract another huge weekday crowd is the clash between RC Cola-Army and Petron, two proud teams with a total of five crowns between them.

The Lady Troopers had a quick start and coasted to four straight wins without yielding a single set. On the other hand, the Tri-Activ Spikers nailed three wins before surrendering a five-set decision to the HD Spikers.

“It’s going to be a very interesting match up,” said RC Cola-Army coach Kungfu Reyes whose wards captured the league’s first three crowns before taking a hiatus, allowing Petron to win the next two titles.

“We are consistent and very composed. We don’t panic even if our opponent is mounting a rally. Petron is very hungry and eager to bounce back after that setback to Cignal. This is going to be interesting. Whoever comes up with good preparation will surely win the match.”