Neophytes Sta. Lucia and Cocolife get an early baptism of fire as they clash with seasoned foes in the opening day of the Belo-Philippine Superliga (PSL) Invitational Conference Saturday at the FilOil Flying V Center in San Juan.
A massive crowd is expected to show up as the Lady Realtors make their much-anticipated debut against powerhouse Petron at 7 pm while the Asset Managers will buckle down to business against a souped-up Generika-Ayala squad at 3 pm following the 2 pm opening ceremonies.
Another superpower in Cignal will also see action as they tackle Foton in the 5 pm match of this prestigious women’s volleyball tourney bankrolled by Mikasa, Senoh, Mueller and Grand Sport with TV5 as official broadcast partner.
After a glorious stint in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA), hopes are high on Sta. Lucia as it parades a collection of NCAA stars led by Janine Navarro, Ranya Musa and Djanel Cheng, who made a mark when they powered College of Saint Benilde to a miraculous win over San Sebastian in the NCAA finals last year.
Michael Carino, assistant coach of Sammy Acaylar in the men’s national team will serve as mentor.
But surpassing their first test in this battle that also has UCPB Gen as official insurance provider and Gold’s Gym as official fitness partner will never be easy.
The Lady Realtors are tipped to have a tough time as the Blaze Spikers will march with a rock-solid roster featuring former UST stars Carmela Tunay and Rhea Dimaculangan as well as Mika Reyes, middle blocker who saw action during the FIVB Women’s Club World Championship last year.
Petron assistant coach Ian Fernandez said chemistry will never be a major problem as Dimaculangan played with star opposite Aiza Maizo-Pontillas when the Tigresses conquered their last UAAP crown in 2010 under the mentorship of incumbent Petron coach Shaq Delos Santos.
“They are quite familiar with each other so it will never be a problem,” said Fernandez, the former national men’s team skipper who was also part of the coaching staff when UST ruled the UAAP seven years ago.
“It’s like a reunion of sort. Kami-kami pa din ang magkakasama. Their connection especially that of Rhea and Aiza, is still there. It’s just a matter of how we will prepare them against other teams, especially against a young team like Sta. Lucia.”
Also expected to draw attention is Cocolife, a team assembled out of the friendship and camaraderie between erstwhile rivals Michele Gumabao of La Salle and Denden Lazaro of Ateneo.
Two of the most fiery and popular players of this generation, Gumabao and Lazaro surrounded themselves with quality talents as they recruited Erika Alkuino, Rose Vargas, Wensh Tiu, Therese Gaston and Iris Patrona, who is billed as a legend in La Salle after powering the Lady Spikers to their first UAAP crown in 1999.
For good measure, the Asset Managers also tapped the core of newly crowned NCAA titlist Arellano University with Obet Javier as head coach and Tina Salak as trainer, making them a solid force to be reckoned with in this short but very competitive tourney in which a university team from Japan will compete in the semifinals.
“We want to show that even if they are rivals on the court, La Salle and Ateneo players are all friends off the court,” said Cocolife team official Joshua Ylaya, who also used to play for the La Salle men’s team.
“We want to hit the ground running. We want to be competitive right away so we will treat every game as if it is our last in this very short tournament.”
The Asset Managers will be up against Generika-Ayala, which transformed into a solid contender with the acquisition of the core of two-time champion Foton side bannered by Angeli Araneta, Carol Cerveza, Bia General and Patty Jane Orendain.
Games March 4
FilOil Flying V Center
2 pm – Opening Ceremonies
3 pm – Cocolife vs Generika-Ayala
5 pm – Foton vs Cignal
7 pm – Sta. Lucia vs Petron