Winning the title will no longer be a cakewalk as seven other teams declared readiness to topple reigning champion Petron in the Philippine Superliga Grand Prix which starts on Feb. 29 at the Filoil Flying V Centre in San Juan.
With the Blaze Spikers undergoing a massive revamp, the road to the title is now wide open with F2 Logistics, Cignal, Chery Tiggo and new-look Sta. Lucia eager to rule the season-opening conference of the most prestigious women’s club league in the country.
Seasoned mentor Emil Lontoc replaced Shaq Delos Santos as head coach of the Blaze Spikers while stalwarts Mika Reyes, Rhea Dimaculangan, Chloe Cortez, Carmela Tunay and Denden Lazaro all packed their bags.
Aiza Maizo-Pontillas and Frances Molina will be returning for another tour of duty for the Blaze Spikers, who will bring back explosive import Katherine Bell.
“The team is a perennial title contender. This time, we will try our best to get back to the championship,” said Lontoc, the chief assistant when the Philippines won the title in the Singapore Southeast Asian Games in 1993, during the press launch yesterday at Eurotel in Makati City.
“Of course, many are saying that we had a total revamp in the off-season. But I still believe in the system that we have. It all boils down to our execution.”
Tipped to give the Blaze Spikers a run for their money are the Cargo Movers.
With seasoned reinforcement Lindsay Stalzer back at the helm as well as the core of Aby Maraño, Dawn Macandili, Majoy Baron and Kianna Dy, F2 Logistics is expected to go all out to finally regain the Grand Prix title from the Petron.
Chery Tiggo will also be marching with a powerful roster after landing national team member Mylene Paat, Jasmine Nabor and Janine Nabor in the off-season while retaining the core of Shaya Adorador, Elaine Kasilag, Rachel Anne Austero and Gyselle Sy together with Tatjana Bokan.
Cignal, for its part, will parade Rachel Anne Daquis, Jovelyn Gonzaga, Cherry Vivas, Fiola Ceballos and Alohi Robins-Hardy while Sta. Lucia landed Reyes, Bang Pineda, Djanel Cheng and import Shaina Joseph.
“We always say that Petron is the team-to-beat,” said F2 Logistics coach Noel Orcullo, whose team has yet to win over Petron in the past two stagings of the import-flavored conference.
“Our mentality is always the same: To make it to the finals and get the championship. Still, this is a big opportunity and we will grab it.”
Also seeing action are Marinerang Pilipina, PLDT Home Fibr and Generika-Ayala, which will be powered by new recruits Dimaculangan, Mina Aganon and Eli Soyud with Patty Orendain and Ria Meneses returning for another stint.
The teams will play in a double-round robin elimination, where the eight teams will be ranked for the knockout quarterfinals.
The No. 1 team will face the No. 8 team while the second seed squad will be up against the seventh team, the No. 3 team will tangle with the No. 6 and the No. 4 team will face No. 5.
Winner of each quarterfinal pairing with the higher rank will have a twice-to-beat advantage in the semifinals.