When Asian stars collide

The AVC Asian Women’s Club Championship this Saturday will not just be a battle for pride and glory. It will also be a grand display of Asia’s best women’s volleyball players in action.

Shortly after plucking the gold medal in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, China will be bannered by 30-time champion Ba’yi Shenzheng headed by Olympian Yuan Xinyue as well as Liu Yanhan, the Most Valuable Player (MVP) when Manila hosted the Asian U23 Women’s Championship last year.

Not to be outdone, NEC Red Rockets of Japan will also have its own Olympian in middle blocker Haruyo Shimamura.

She will be backed by outside spiker Sarina Koga, the former national junior team star who emerged as the Best Scorer and MVP when Japan won the gold medal in the Asian Youth Girls Championship in 2012.

The reigning Asian champion, Bangkok Glass, will also be a solid force to be reckoned with.

The Thais will be headed by seasoned veterans Pleumjit Thinkaow, Wanida Kotruang and Wilavan Apinyapong as well as rising stars Pornpun Guedpard and Sutadta Chuewulim.

American Ashley Frazier will serve as import while national team head coach Kittipong Pornchartyingcheep will remain as mentor.

Foton Pilipinas already tested the mettle of the Thais during the 2016 Sealect Tuna Thailand Volleyball last week. Although Foton Pilipinas suffered a four-set meltdown, Kittipong was impressed by the Tornadoes, who are slowly absorbing the system of Italian coach Fabio Menta.

[quote]Foton is a very good team with great blockers.

We have to fight hard for every point and only when they made few mistakes we got our game back.[/quote]

The Tornadoes already made the final cut with American imports Lindsay Stalzer and Ariel Usher at the helm together with guest players Jovelyn Gonzaga, Aby Marano and Jen Reyes. Mainstays Jaja Santiago, Rhea Dimaculangan, Maika Ortiz, Patty Orendain, EJ Laure, Angeli Araneta, Ivy Perez, Bia General and Cherry Rondina also made the 14-man squad.

Other heavy contenders are Jakarta Elektrik of Indonesia, Altay VC of Kazakhstan, 4.25 Sports Club of North Korea and Chinese Taipei, which changed its name from Taichung Bank to T. Grand at the last minute.

Skippered by Southeast Asian superstar Aprilia Santini Manganang, the Indonesians are tipped to make life difficult for the heavy contenders as they will be powered by Thai imports Wanitchaya Luangtonglang and Kuttika Kaewpin.

The Kazakhs, meanwhile, are expected to tower over their rivals as they parade Russian standout Olga Biryukova and Bulgarian star Vanya Varbanova while the North Koreans will have veterans Kim Yong Mi, Jin Sim Jong, Un Hyang Ju and Ok Ju Min.

T. Grand will not have an import, but the core of national youth standouts Ya Hui-Chiu and Yu-Chieh Chen is capable of pulling massive upsets.

Also competing are the Malaysian national team, Pocari Sweat of Hong Kong and Sarmayeh Bank of Iran.