‘Battle of Bacolod’ looms

The city of Bacolod will turn into a battleground as F2 Logistics makes its highly anticipated debut against a legitimate title contender in Petron in the Chooks to Go-Philippine Superliga (PSL) Grand Prix this Saturday at the University of St. La Salle gymnasium.

So much hype and excitement surround the league’s very first appearance in the City of Smiles.

For one, this marks the first time that Bacolod City will host a major volleyball tournament after staging the 23rd Southeast Asian Games in 2005.

Bannered by current PSL stars like Tina Salak and Mary Jean Balse of Cocolife and Rubie de Leon of Foton, the Philippines emerged with a bronze medal before taking a decade of absence in the biennial meet.

Aside from that, local talents like Bernadeth Pons and April Ross Hingpit of Petron, Fritz Gallenero of F2 Logistics, Dancel Dusaran of Cocolife and assistant coach Michelle Laborte of Cignal will be making a homecoming while friends and relatives are expected to take a short ferry ride from nearby islands to witness local stars Gen Casugod and Patty Jane Orendain of Generika-Ayala, Jovelyn Gonzaga of Cignal and Aiza Maizo-Pontillas live in action.

Players from six competing teams – Generika-Ayala, Cocolife, Cignal, Petron, F2 Logistics and Foton – will get to mingle with local fans in a meet and greet session on Friday at SM City Bacolod followed by a press conference from 4 pm to 6 pm.

A volleyball clinic is also being arranged on Thursday and Friday at St. John’s Institute and Pontevedra town, respectively.

Bacolod City Rep. Greg Gasataya said they couldn’t wait to roll out the red carpet for these volleyball luminaries.

“Bringing the Superliga to our city means a lot to our local fans.”

“This is an opportunity for us to showcase Bacolod City not just the sugar source of the Philippines, but also to show how much we support the sport. We want to inspire our youth by giving them premium volleyball entertainment.”

VIP tickets are already sold out while only 20 pieces of Loge tickets pegged at P600 are available. Tickets at the bleachers worth P300, however, are still up for grabs.

Tickets are available at all SM Ticketnet outlets and i-Mart. For inquiries, please call Sheena of CAG Events at +63 930119 8862.

All-out war

But come game time, it’s going to be an all-out war.

Despite knowing that the import-flavored conference is their waterloo for the past couple of seasons, F2 Logistics coach Ramil de Jesus opted to tap only two imports in Kennedy Bryan of United States and Maria Jose Perez of Venezuela.

Kennedy is said to be the Cargo Movers’ original choice last year before settling for Hayley Spelman and Sydney Kemper while the former Olympian Perez is well known in the international circuit for packing his spikes with power.

De Jesus said they may have only two imports, but their hopes are high since they have a pair of good middle blockers in Aby Marano and reigning UAAP Most Valuable Player Majoy Baron as well as world-class talents in setter Kim Fajardo and libero Dawn Macandili.

Marano, Fajardo, Macandili and Kim Dy, in fact, are said to be in the best condition of their lives after joining the national team in a 17-day training in Japan and campaigning in the AVC Asian Senior Women’s Championship and the 29th Southeast Asian Games.

After finishing the assignment, Marano even joined the PSL All-Star team in a tournament in Sisaket, Thailand where they emerged with a bronze-medal finish.

“I’m pretty confident that we don’t need a third import.”

“We already have a good setter, good libero and good middles. We just have to work on our chemistry with our imports, something which we already accomplished during the off-season.”

De Jesus said with the presence of Bryan and Perez, they already have the luxury of resting star spiker Ara Galang, who is coming off an anterior cruciate ligament injury.

“Ara is still part of the team, but we have to rest her for the Grand Prix because her knee injury is recurring.”

“We want to prolong her playing career and have her fresh for the Invitational and All-Filipino Conference next year.”

Uphill climb

Emerging victorious in the ‘Battle of Bacolod’ may be easier said than done.

The Cargo Movers will be stacked against a full-tanked Petron squad that has yet to lose in three outings.

In their previous match against another solid contender in Cignal, the Blaze Spikers delivered a glimpse of their vaunted strength and firepower when they emerged victorious in four sets.

Lindsay Stalzer chalked 23 kills for a total of 26 points while Hillary Hurley finished the job with 18 markers.

Ces Molina and Mika Reyes also shone while Maizo-Pontillas provided the spark off the bench, a testament of how powerful these Blaze Spikers are.

Despite their glowing performance, Petron coach Shaq Delos Santos stressed that it’s still a long way to go.

“This is probably the toughest conference.”

“All teams have greatly improved and we can’t take other teams, especially F2 Logistics, for granted.”

Delos Santos said de Jesus is a master tactician and he knows that he has enough aces on his sleeve to come up with a stunning conquest.

And in Bacolod City – the City of Smiles – only one team will surely walk away with a smile.