THE Philippine Superliga Grand Prix fires off with an explosive doubleheader and a festive opening ceremony on Saturday at the Ynares Sports in Pasig City.
Generika-Ayala tests the mettle of Sta. Lucia at 6 p.m., while two-time champion Foton collides with an overhauled United Volleyball Club (UVC) side in the 4 p.m. opening salvo of the women’s club tournament that has ESPN5 and 5Plus as broadcast partners.
Members of the eight competing teams, meanwhile, will parade from the Oranbo Barangay Hall going to the venue with MFBD Marching Band and an LGBT group as spearheads, giving fans a chance to personally wish them well before they embark in another grueling tourney.
Larong Volleyball sa Pilipinas Inc. Peter Cayco was invited to deliver the opening remarks, while Philippine Olympic Committee President Ricky Vargas will render the inspirational speech before PSL Chairman Philip Ella Juico declares the games open.
But on the court, it’s going to be all business. Generika-Ayala is marching with high morale following an impressive run in the All-Filipino Conference of this tourney that is backed by Asics, Mikasa, Mueller, Senoh, Team Rebel Sports, Bizooku, UCPB Gen, Hotel Sogo and Data Project.
With Head Coach Sherwin Meneses calling the shots and Marivic Meneses, Fiola Ceballos and Patty Orendain at the firing end, the Lifesavers made it all the way to the semifinals before falling prey to a powerhouse F2 Logistics squad.
This impressive run gave the Lifesavers high morale heading into the import-flavored Grand Prix. “Our confidence is high,” said Meneses, who will parade open spiker Nikolle del Rio of Brazil and middle blocker Kseniya Kocyvit of Azerbaijan in their pursuit to advance to the finals for the first time since winning the crown in 2014.
“As much as possible, we want to give our local players a lot of opportunities in the Grand Prix. That’s why we tapped a middle blocker and an open spiker as imports. We want to reward our locals for a job well done in the previous conference.”
Sta. Lucia, however, is coming in with a chip on its shoulders following a winless campaign in the All-Filipino, prompting it to tap a new coach in former National University mentor Babes Castillo.
Castillo said Filipino-American spiker MJ Philips has yet to fully recover from her shoulder injury, but the rest of the team, led by American imports Molly Lohman and Casey Schoenlein, are all ready to go.
They also have new players in former Adamson ace Amanda Villanueva and Ateneo libero Rio Lo, while veterans Michelle Laborte, Rubie de Leon and Pam Lastimosa return for another tour of duty.
“I expect more energy from the team, now,” said Castillo, who took over from George Pascua in the off-season.
“We had a really good four weeks already and everything is working well in this team. The imports are also very young and energetic so it’s really a good combination. Our hopes for this conference are really high.”
Also set to draw attention is the battle between Foton and UVC.
Despite the absence of towering sisters Jaja Santiago and Dindin Manabat, the Tornadoes remain a force to be reckoned with, thanks to the addition of imports Selime Ilyasoglu of Turkey and Courtney Felinski of the United States and local hitter Elaine Kasilag.
On the other hand, UVC, which used to be known as Cocolife, had a recruiting spree in the off-season, allowing it to net Filipino-Hawaiian setter Alohi Robins-Hardy and Kiwi Amy Ahomiro together with American imports Tai Manu-Olevao and Yasmeen Bedart-Ghani.