Cignal looms as the heaviest contender when the 2016 Philippine Superliga (PSL) Grand Prix fires off on Oct 8 at the FilOil Flying V Center in San Juan.
After launching a major overhaul, the HD Spikers are tipped to dominate with the return of former Most Valuable Player (MVP) Venus Bernal and the recruitment of Janine Marciano, Stephanie Mercado, Mylene Paat, Lourdes Patillano and Filipino-American setter Shawna-Lei Santos.
They will be powered by 6-foot 5 open spiker Laura Schaudt of the United States and Lynda Morales who skippered the Puerto Rican national women’s team in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
But winning the Grand Prix crown wouldn’t be easy.
Reigning champion Foton also had a massive upgrade with the recruitment of 6-foot-3 Dindin Manabat to join her sister, 6-foot-5 Jaja Santiago, Maika Ortiz and Angeli Araneta at the middle position. Last year’s MVP Lindsay Stalzer will be back and will conspire with Ariel Usher in helping the Tornadoes defend the crown.
Seasoned Serbian guru Moro Branislav will call the shots after replacing Fabio Menta of Italy.
Not to be outdone, F2 Logistics, RC Cola-Army, Generika and Petron will also parade a souped-up roster.
The Cargo Movers will still be bannered by Aby Maraño, Cha Cruz, Mika Reyes, Ara Galang, Kim Fajardo and the core of UAAP champion La Salle. They also drafted Djanel Cheng and Janine Navarro who both led College of Saint Benilde to the NCAA title.
However they are still undecided who among Sydney Kemper, Nicole Walch, McKenzie Adams and Melissa Toth will serve as their reinforcements.
RC Cola-Army will be marching intact with Tina Salak, Rachel Anne Daquis, Jovelyn Gonzaga, Honey Royse Tubino, Nene Bautista and Jennie Delos Reyes reporting for duty. Former US juniors national team member Kierra Holst and Hailie Ripley will suit up as imports.
“All teams have obviously upgraded their respective rosters,” said PSL president Ramon Suzara, who is also a ranking member of the Asian Volleyball Confederation and International Volleyball Federation. “But it’s still a very balanced field. As we see in the previous conferences, strength on paper alone wouldn’t be enough to bring home the crown.”
Generika called on former Trinidad and Tobago national team member Darlene Ramdin and Ukrainian sensation Polina Liutikova to power the core of Rubie de Leon, Chloe Cortez, Ria Meneses, Gen Casugod and Shaya Adorador.
The spotlight will also be trained on Petron as high-flying Stephanie Niemer, who is said to be the league’s most explosive import in the pre-season, will suit up together with 6-foot-5 middle blocker Serena Warner as well as the local crew of Aiza Maizo-Pontillas, Frances Molina, Jen Reyes and Bang Pineda.
“The preparation of every team is very intense. Everybody wants to gain advantage,” PSL chairman Philip Ella Juico said. “We are looking forward to a lot of long rallies, five-set matches and another successful staging of this tournament.”
An explosive double-header will be featured on the opening day with F2 Logistics and Generika clashing at 12:30 pm while the protagonists in last year’s finals, Foton and Petron, renew their rivalry in the main game at 3 pm.