The Philippine Super Liga Grand Prix Primer #1: The Debutants and New Alliances

The hiatus is over.

You can view the statement above in different ways but for me, I’ve spent too much time away from writing and too much time trying to look for that rhythm in my jumpshot in the My Career Mode of my new NBA2K14 that it just dawned on me that the Philippine Super Liga (PSL) Grand Prix is just days away; kicking off on November 10th at the San Juan Arena.

The TMS-Philippine Army: PSL Invitational champions (Photo: George Calvelo/NPPA Images)

Of course—true to the spirit of league commissioner Dr. Ian Laurel—the PSL GP will be having its now traditional meet-and-greet thingy to introduce the teams and players anew this Thursday, November 7th at the posh URBN Bar and Kitchen at The Fort where the rabid fans of the nation’s most iconic volleybelles will have a unique opportunity to rub elbows with their idols in a night filled with surprises and pageantry.

Time to party again on Thursday (Photo: Solar Sports/PSL)

Solar Sports, the country’s premier sports cable channel, will once again be tasked to bring this pulsating brand of volleyball to the masses and it recently bared that the opening ceremonies and games will be aired live across the archipelago. This also holds true for the semifinals and finals and there will also be scheduled matches outside of Metro Manila for this sortie. Most of the matches will be held later on at the Ynares Sports Complex in Pasig City; a venue that could be the new home of the league.

“I cannot contain my excitement for the upcoming (PSL) Grand Prix,” Laurel said in a phone conversation. “The presence of imports changes the dynamic of all the teams and since their arrival, the teams’ training sessions have taken on a different dimension. Even the team owners are pumped about the whole thing.”

PSL Commissioner Dr. Ian Laurel with Solar Sports' Riki Flores (Photo: Cesar Bailen, Jr.)

Six teams consisting of the finest non-collegiate women’s volleyball players in the country will lock horns in this import-laden tournament, It is the most ambitious endeavor the PSL is undertaking—and it is only in its second conference.

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Cagayan Valley, which won the recent Shakey’s V-League Open Conference via a historic 16-0 season sweep headline the participating contingents as PSL Invitational squads Cignal, Petron and PLDT also aim to dislodge inaugural titlists TMS-Philippine Army as PSL queens. RC Cola (initially named Air Asia-Zest, but switched to its new product after its owners decided to promote one of its other brands) is the new team on the block, taking the place of Bingo Milyonaryo.

Another noble gesture by the PSL is that they have joined forces with San Juan City Mayor Guia Gomez in sending all the gate proceeds to the victims of the recent earthquake that afflicted Bohol and other areas of central Visayas.

“The PSL is a league with a conscience,” Laurel said. “The money that will be raised from the ticket sales of opening day will be used to help our stricken brothers and sisters in Bohol. The intercession of the Office of Mayor Guia Gomez of San Juan City was a major catalyst in making this happen."

While most of the official line-ups of the teams that will be seeing in action in the PSL GP are still works in progress (many players are still being signed and courted as of this writing), there are already a number of notable personalities that will be highlighting their skills in a few days--for the first time.

Perhaps the most vibrant name among the local players will be the maiden voyage of Philippine volleyball ambassadress Rachel Anne Daquis, who will be suiting up for the Lady Troopers—as she has since 2011.

Rachel Anne Daquis will finally make her PSL debut (Photo: Arnold Z. Cruz)

Daquis missed the inaugural PSL Invitational due to her annual trip to Hanover, Germany to visit her mother and will be one of the most anticipated debuts in league history when Army plays its first match.

Another “debutant” is two-time Shakey’s V-League MVP Suzanne Roces who will see action for PLDT under new Head Coach Roger Gorayeb, who replaced erstwhile mentor Francis Vicente during the off-season.

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Former Ateneo Team Captain Angeline “Dzi” Gervacio is probably one of those that will also get the loudest cheers from the gallery. Fondly called “Attorney Dzi” by yours truly, she has found a way to find a balance in her law school studies to rekindle her relationship with the sport that made one of the most recognizable athletes in the country. Gervacio will play for Petron.

Angeline "Attorney Dzi" Gervacio (#6) back on the court after almost a year (Photo: Kevin de la Cruz/Rivals.ph …

Other highly-heralded volleybelles strutting their stuff for the first time in the league are former UP skipper Carmela Lopez (Petron), former UST stalwart Lilet Mabbayad—yes, NU coach Edjet’s cousin (Cignal), former national team center Nica Guliman (PLDT), former FEU standout Charlene Gillego (Cagayan Valley) and former De La Salle-Dasmariñas pagoda and national team member Iari Yongco (RC Cola).

Conspicuously absent in the rosters (as of this writing, at least) are Ateneo aces Jem Ferrer and Fille Cainglet, La Salle’s Michele Gumabao, veteran setter Rubie de Leon and PSL Invitationals MVP Venus Bernal.

Also, rumored emergences of UST’s Bernice Co, La Salle’s Cha Cruz and UP star turned actress Jed Montero are quelled by the line-ups submitted to Yahoo! Sports Philippines by the PSL. But they ain't final yet...

Jed Montero's PSL debut is a rumor...for now (Photo: www.pinoyexchange.com)

The new alliances also pique many intrigues.

For starters, Petron—still under the helm of UST assistant coach Vilet Ponce de Leon—will headline a mix of Ateneo and La Salle icons with Gervacio, Gretchen Ho, Kara Acevedo and Karla Bello teaming up with Stephanie Mercado and Melissa Gohing. Add to that, the “Defensive Demigod” Mic-Mic Laborte, the power-hitting Lopez and two imports from Japan, namely Misao Tanyama and setter Shinako Tanaka.

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Mabbayad, former La Salle captain Chie Saet (a former member of Cagayan Valley and the Power Pinays) and Cebu’s Abby Praca reinforce Invitationals runner-up Cignal, which will have the compliment of two imports from China (Li Zhan Zhan and Xie Lei), but will be playing without star libero Jen Reyes as former Cagayan Valley floor patroller Jheck Dionela now joins the HD Spikers and Head Coach Sammy Acaylar (the Power Pinays' team manager).

Reyes will now mop the floor using a Cagayan Valley uniform in a twist of reality unforeseen by many. It is perhaps the most bizarre swap in the sport's history here.

Trading Places: a uniform swap for Jen Reyes and Jheck Dionela (Photo: Arnold Z. Cruz)

For the Rising Suns (still under national team coach Nes Pamilar), they will still be parading the core of their recent conquest in the Shakey’s V-League Open starring Power Pinays skipper Angge Tabaquero (formerly of Petron), her former Blaze Spikers teammate Aiza Maizo-Pontillas, Invitationals attacks queen Pau Soriano as well two Thai players that saw action here a few weeks ago in PNP’s Patcharee Sangmuang and Smart-Maynilad’s Wanida Kotruang.

RC Cola (moniker pending) will be coached by former Power Puffins headman Ronald Dulay and boast of a fiery collection of talent with the UST trio of Rhea Dimaculangan, Judy Caballejo and Maika Ortiz (all formerly of Petron), Yongco and the seasoned smarts of Wendy Semana and Joy Cases. Former Manila visitor Sontaya Keawbundit and China’s Zhang Minghua are their imports.

The TMS-Philippine Army will still be missing the services of former national team mainstay Mayeth Carolino, but the addition of Daquis in their line-up more than makes up for the Agoncillo, Batangas native’s absence. The Lady Troopers will still have reigning Shakey’s V-League Open MVP Jovelyn Gonzaga in their fold, while Angela Nunag becomes the lone “local” libero as chief floor patroller Sha-Sha Siatan-Torres is out of commission with an ACL injury.

Army's 5'4" import Yuki Murakoshi (R) chills with Petron (Photo: PSL)

However, help could be on the way in the form of Japan’s Yuki Murakoshi—the smallest of all the imports at 5’4” (a libero, maybe?)—and former Thai national campaigner Winitchaya Luangtonglang. Army coach Rico de Guzman now has additional weapons.

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But perhaps the most celebrated pair of imports may belong to PLDT as they are the only team to field in two American reinforcements in renowned former Kansas Jayhawk attacker Savannah Noyes (6’3”) and Iowa State Cyclones setter Kaylee Manns (5’11”). The stateside pair may have to provide a bulk of the action as Gorayeb’s line-up has a few offensive options after Roces, Guliman, former Queen Eagle Charo Soriano, former multi-NCAA MVP Lou Ann Latigay and former Adamson star Angela Benting.

He does have, however, arguably two of the best liberos in Philippine history with Tatan Gata-Pantone and Sher Peñano, so kills may not come easy for the opposition.

Tatan Gata-Pantone back as chief libero for PLDT (Photo: Arnold Z. Cruz)

In my next primer, I will attempt to highlight each team’s strengths and weaknesses as well as look into the potency of the foreign reinforcements.

One thing’s for sure: SJA will be rocking on Sunday. But first, see you all at URBN on Thursday.

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

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Editor’s note:Yahoo Philippines encourages responsible comments that add dimension to the discussion. No bashing or hate speech, please. You can express your opinion without slamming others or making derogatory remarks.

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