Yuri, Francis and the race in PSL Grand Prix

Tuesday, 08 Nov 2016
Julius Manicad - Chief Correspondent - @JCManicad
PSL Manila stars Stalzer & Niemer play in the PSL Grand Prix but is there a chance of seeing Fukuda join them?

Every week, we get a lot of letters from fans asking about their favorite volleyball players. Some of those letters landed on our inbox, some letters did not. So one day, we decided to open our spam folder and found a boatload of unread letters. Here are some of the questions we #RecoveredFromSpam

So far, the race in the Philippine Superliga (PSL) Grand Prix is heating up and contenders are slowly being separated from pretenders. With the way things are going, who do you think would be the last two teams left standing? Thanks and more power!

Thanks for asking, Miles. You’re absolutely right in saying that the real mettle of PSL teams is cropping. If you look closely, you can figure out who has enough fuel to complete the whole nine yards in the most competitive club league in the country.

Cignal, with its beefed-up roster and powerful imports, is definitely struggling with chemistry while F2 Logistics is being bothered by injuries and subpar performance of All-Filipino Conference Most Valuable Player Dawn Macandili, who opts to pay special attention to her academics in La Salle.

Generika, of course, is having a tough time with its coach Francis Vicente nearly walking away in the middle of the season. Same goes for RC Cola-Army, which admitted that they are no longer the same deadly team that took the PSL by storm in its first three seasons.

It leads to only two teams: Petron and Foton. So far, Petron has yet to lose in four games.

Look, Petron is no ordinary team. Stephanie Niemer is professional campaigner who saw action in the world’s toughest leagues like Puerto Rico and Azerbaijan.

Also, Serena Warner, CJ Rosario and Cherry Nunag are dedicated defensive stoppers at the net while Bang Pineda and Jen Reyes are the best in the business when it comes to floor defense. But the key to Petron’s strength is its hunger and renewed dedication to winning.

Sources said no less than San Miguel Corp. head of sports Alfrancis Chua gave Shaq Delos Santos a special marching order to win the crown and bring the trophy back to the company’s headquarters in Ortigas Center or else drastic changes will be made next year.

That’s why Delos Santos is no longer the cool guy sitting on the bench. He’s now more fiery, more dedicated than ever and barks order from the sidelines like a Nazi drillmaster. He also implemented a stricter training regimen, something which his players take positively as they enter the court with fire on their eyes ready to pounce on their opponents.

Another team, which we expect to dominate is Foton. The Tornadoes are responding positively to Serbian coach Moro Branislav and team captain Lindsay Stalzer and are obviously using their deep familiarity as their advantage.

Unlike last year, the young players are also said to be tougher, more confident than ever after seeing action in the AVC Asian Women’s Club Championship last September, an very huge advantage which other teams – except for Petron – do not have.

And though star middle blocker Jaja Santiago would be sitting out their next four games, it wouldn’t really matter as the Tornadoes have a very deep bench. Who knows, maybe her absence can open things up for her sister, Dindin Santiago, who is still recovering from pregnancy.

So yes, all teams are good, but Petron and Foton are definitely on top of their game right now.

Still, we’ll be very glad if F2 Logistics, Cignal, RC Cola-Army and Generika would prove us wrong.

 

We were stunned when Generika coach Francis Vicente threatened to resign in the middle of the conference due to the Lifesavers’ anemic performance. Do you think he’s serious? If yes, why?

Yes, Francis Vicente nearly quit in the middle of the conference in the aftermath of Generika’s ugly loss to Foton last week.

The Lifesavers were a picture of frustration. There was no coordination on offense and they looked slow and sluggish in transition. Imports Darlene Ramdin and Polina Liutikova played way below expectations while locals Ria Meneses, Gen Casugod, Rubie de Leon, Shaya Adorador and Chloe Cortez were uninspired.

We were surprised when Vicente aired his frustration to a young reporter. Then, we called him up to verify and he confirmed that he’s really pissed off and thinking of resigning. But, you know, coach Francis is a no non-sense mentor.

He is a noted drillmaster and a teacher by heart who taught the likes of Alyssa Valdez, Kim Fajardo, Dindin Santiago and Maruja Banaticla not only the basic of volleyball, but also how to be fine young ladies.

His mentorship spills even out of the playing court that’s why his players refer to him as “Tatay Vince.”

In fact, his training program nearly bore fruit when Philips Gold nearly made it to the finals of the Philippine Superliga Grand Prix. Unfortunately, the Lady Slammers bowed to rampaging Foton, prompting sideliners to believe that this year could tbeir year.

Unfortunately, Philips Gold moved over to the rival league under the banner of Pocari Sweat. But if you’re going to ask us if Francis is serious in resigning, we honestly think so.

When we talked shortly after Generika lost to Foton, we could sense the frustration in his voice and how badly he wanted to claim the victory. He admitted that his players are no longer responding to him that’s why maybe it’s high time for him to go.

However, knowing how great a motivator he is, this could also be his way to light a fire under these Lifesavers.

We may never know. All I know is that he has to be patient because he has such a good core and a pair of prolific imports. All he needs is to make them work together as one solid unit.

 

Who among PSL-F2 Logistics Manila’s former imports has the best chance to return to the country?

It was such a great question, Tina.

Yes, all imports of PSL-F2 Logistics Manila fell in-love with the warm hospitality and friendliness by local fans when they stayed here for one month for the FIVB Women’s Club World Championship.

Seven foreign players represented us: Stephanie Niemer, Lindsay Stalzer, Lynda Morales, Ekaterina Krivets, Yevgeniya Nyukhalova, Yuri Fukuda and Tichaya Boonlert.

Among them, Niemer, Stalzer and Morales are all competing in the PSL Grand Prix, making Krivets, Fukuda, Nyukhalova and Boonlert as the only players who have yet to see action in the country’s top-caliber club league.

Krivets and Nyukhalova are both world-class players.

They both campaigned in the previous world championship in Zurich with Krivets campaigning for Russian powerhouse Dinamo Krasnodar together with Tatiana Kosheleva while Nyukhalova donned Volero Zurich’s royal colors of purple and gold together with Courtney Thompson, Natalie Huggland and Olesia Rykhliuk.

So given the price tag in their respective contracts, PSL-F2 Logistics Manila was really fortunate to have them, making it extremely difficult for any PSL team to afford.

On the other hand, Boonlert is a rising star for the Thailand junior national team.

Those who know Thai volleyball said she is behind Nootsara Tomkum and Pornpun Guedpard in the pecking order and it would be difficult for her club team, 3BB Nokhonnont, to release her as import to foreign teams. Fortunately, the PSL has solid ties with the Thailand Volleyball Association and Thai officials allowed her to suit up for this very special world-level tournament.

With that, Fukuda is the only import from that fabled squad that PSL teams could tap for next year’s Grand Prix.

After winning the hearts of local fans for her hard work and lovable attitude, Fukuda immediately flew to Tokyo to assume her role as main libero of Ohno-group Hiroshima Oilers in the V. Challenge League 1 in Japan. She left behind trails of good memories with her local teammates, especially Jen Reyes and Jaja Santiago.

Sources said Fukuda fell in love with the country and is delighted by the idea of suiting up as import in the next edition of the Grand Prix. If it happens, she will become the second libero to suit up as import next to Japanese Yuri Marakoshi, who played for TMS Philippine Army in the 2013 Grand Prix.

Although PSL teams are all convinced that having a spiker or a blocker as an import is the way to win a title, we may still never know. With Fukuda’s great performance in the world championship and lovable personality, we expect her to get hired and return to the country sooner than expected.