Is Foton still going to Kazakhstan?

Monday, 08 May 2017
Julius Manicad - Chief Correspondent - @JCManicad

The Asian Women’s Club Championship is moving just two weeks away and the country’s bet – reigning Philippine Superliga Grand Prix champion Foton – has yet to prepare for this major tourney set in the eastern city of Oskemen in Kazakhstan.

The Tornadoes are supposed to be one of the favorites.

When the country hosted the tournament last year, they made heads turn as they tapped Ariel Usher and Lindsay Stalzer as reinforcements and banked on seasoned international campaigners Jovelyn Gonzaga, Aby Marano and Jen Reyes as guest players.

Also in the fold were Jaja Santiago, Rhea Dimaculangan, Angeli Araneta, EJ Laure, Sisi Rondina, Maika Ortiz and Bia General, forming a rock-solid squad capable of making a serious run.

The squad came up with a seventh-place finish, no thanks to the back injury suffered by prized opposite Stalzer midway into the tourney.

Still, sideliners believe that the Tornadoes have what it takes to take the prestigious battle among the continent’s best club teams by storm.

So shortly after winning the Grand Prix crown following a dramatic, heart-stopping demolition of powerhouse Petron last December, hopes were high that Foton will essay a fitting ending to its unfinished business.

After all, these Tornadoes are ready. They have the firepower, the height, the athleticism and the experience to at least join superpowers Japan, Thailand and China in the semifinals.

But with only two weeks left, news about their preparation has yet to be heard.

Are these Tornadoes still going to Kazakhstan or not?

Depleted roster

A reliable source said Foton’s chance of competing in the Asian Club tourney is slim to none.

The source, a Foton insider, said their depleted roster makes it difficult to assemble a formidable team capable of the same impact they had last year.

Sure, Serbian mentor Moro Branislav is still there as well as Santiago, Ortiz and Laure. But the support crew of General, Dimaculangan, Araneta, Rondina, Patty Orendain, Carol Cerveza and Kara Acevedo already packed their bags after impressing various teams during the course of their championship run.

The insider claimed that the straw that broke the camel’s back was the injury suffered by team captain Dindin Manabat in the crucial stretch of the PSL Invitational Conference last month.

She was assessed with a Grade 2 MCL strain and will be out for the next six to eight months to give way for rehabilitation and recovery.

“It was devastating.”
“Foton could have assembled a roster built around Jaja and Dindin. But after that injury, everything has changed, including the direction of the team in the Asian club.”

The source added that Foton management really wanted to send the team as a reward to the players’ hard work and dedication in winning the Grand Prix last year.

In fact, the management was already negotiating with Stalzer and Stephanie Niemer, forming a deadly four-headed offensive dragon with twin towers Manabat and Santiago manning the middle.

“But luck isn’t in their favor.”
“They are in a rebuilding phase at the moment and Dindin suddenly got injured. So it’s really tough.”

‘Begged off’

Foton team manager Diane Santiago confirmed the source’s claim, admitting that their depleted roster makes it hard for them to assemble a very competitive team.

Santiago, the older sister of Dindin and Jaja, said they already reached out to PSL president Ramon “Tats” Suzara to inform him about their decision of begging off from the tourney that was ruled by NEC Red Rockets of Japan last year.

“We already informed Sir Tats about our decision of begging off.”
“It’s really tough. We’re in a rebuilding stage then we have this major tournament ahead.”
“Also, some of our players have school commitments. Some even have exams. So it’s really tough.”

Santiago said their main concern right now is to get ready for the PSL All-Filipino Conference on June 6 and blossom into a heavy contender again to defend their crown in the Grand Prix in October.

With majority of their players gone, they will bank on new recruits like CJ Rosario, Roselyn Doria, Nica Guliman, Iumi Yongco and Jen Reyes.

“We’re still a work in progress.”

The source, however, said despite Foton’s decision to beg off, the country will still send a representative to the Asian tourney.

“We will still compete, that’s for sure.”
“It’s a very strong team. The team will be presented to the media on Tuesday so I really can’t divulge further details.”