Blaze Spikers out to defend title

The captains of the participating teams join Philippine Superliga officials for a photo.

PETRON expects a tough challenge from a formidable field when the Blaze Spikers defend their title in the Philippine Superliga Grand Prix which unfurls on Saturday at the Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig City.

Winners of the Grand Prix and All-Filipino tournaments last year, the Blaze Spikers, are the favorites to retain the first conference crown in the seventh season of the league.

The Blaze Spikers, under Head Coach Shaq de los Santos, know that as defending champions, the challenge becomes even tougher in the import-laced conference.

“I think it would be a different battle this year. Every game we push ourselves to our limits,” de los Santos told the press launch for the new season at the Santa Lucia East Grand Mall in Cainta on Sunday.

“We can’t be complacent because other teams are ready against us. There are also imports for each team. It’s going to be hard,” de los Santos added.

Petron will bring in Katherine Bell and Stephanie Nimer as imports to backstop local stars Mika Reyes, Aiza Maizo-Pontillas and Bernadeth Pons.

Bell, who partnered with Lindsay Stalzer as Petron’s imports last year, said that nothing has changed in their game plan. It’s still all business.

“I don’t care about the past. Same mindset, get the same result,” Bell said.

De los Santos agreed.

“We can’t belittle our opponents especially in this conference. We need to prepare for each game,” he said.

Challenging Petron are Cignal, Foton, F2 Logistics, Generika, PLDT, Sta. Lucia and United Volleyball Club.

Clashing in the first game are Generika and Sta. Lucia at 6 p.m. and United Volleyball Club and Foton at 4 p.m.

F2 Logistics, meanwhile, boosted its roster by tapping former Petron reinforcement Stalzer and American-Italian Becky Perry, while United Volleyball Club will be bannered by a solid core of Kalei Mau and new recruits Alohi Robins-Hardy, Amy Ahomiro, Bang Pineda and imports Tai Manu-Olevao and Yasmeen Bedart-Ghani.

Generika-Ayala will also be a force behind Azerbaijan national team star Kseniya Kocyigit and Brazilian stalwart Nikolle del Rio while Cignal will bank on the prowess of skipper Rachel Anne Daquis, Anastasia Artemeva of Azerbaijan and Erica Wilson of the United States.

Besides tapping a new coach, Babes Castillo, the Lady Realtors will have US NCAA Division I standouts Molly Lohman and Casey Schoenlein with Foton, the two-time champion, which will be missing the services of towering sisters Jaja Santiago and Dindin Manabat, relying on former Turkish national team member Selime Ilyasoglu and American Courtney Felinski. Ramon Rafael Bonilla

Image Credits: Nonoy Lacza