Best batch ever?

With the 2016 Philippine Superliga (PSL) Grand Prix heating up, teams are now busy stacking up their respective rosters with quality players and competitive imports in a bid to gain advantage over their foes when the season-ending conference kicks off on Oct. 8.

Reigning champion Foton was the first to bring in its reinforcements in former Most Valuable Player Lindsay Stalzer and Ariel Usher, who spearheaded the Tornadoes’ campaign in the AVC Asian Women’s Club Championship recently in Binan City.

Not to be outdone, bridesmaid Petron brought in a pair of explosive imports in Americans Stephanie Niemer and Serena Warner while Generika will be parading Polina Liutikova of Ukraine and Darlene Ramdin of the United States.

But the most intriguing acquisition is Cignal, which tapped the services of Olympian Lynda Morales of Puerto Rico and Laura Schaudt of the United States to provide additional firepower to the hard-hitting troika of newly-acquired Janine Marciano and Paneng Mercado as well as the returning Venus Bernal.

F2 Logistics, the champion in the recent All-Filipino Conference, is still searching for an import and is said to be eyeing a Russian and Ukrainian players who will see action in the upcoming FIVB Women’s Club World Championship.

Same goes for RC Cola-Army, which is still deciding on who to tap in anticipation for the possible absence of Jovelyn Gonzaga, Honey Royse Tubino and other military athletes who will undergo an eight-month training.

The Cargo Movers and Lady Troopers have until next week to decide.

Last year, Filipino fans were dazzled by the power of quality imports like Bojana Todorovic, Katie Messing, Sarah McClinton, Alexis Olgard and Rupia Inck.

Prior to that, PSL introduced Kristy Jaeckel and Alaina Bergsma.

Sideliners, however, believed that this batch of imports is shaping up to be the best.

[quote]PSL is raising the bar a notch higher.

These imports are strongly being considered to play in the FIVB Women’s Club World Championship this October against the likes of Kim Hill, Thaisa Menezes, Jordan Larson, Miyu Nagaoka and other international stars. And it only shows the quality of talent they have.[/quote]

Anyway, here are the scouting reports of the imports that have confirmed their arrival.

Cignal HD Spikers

Lynda Morales & Laura Schaudt

Any team that has Lynda Morales in its lineup should be considered as an instant contender.

Fresh from spearheading Puerto Rico in the Summer Olympics, Morales will make her second tour of duty in Manila after Cignal coach Sammy Acaylar outworked and out-hustled other clubs in Europe and the Americas.

And it appears that Acaylar hit the jackpot.

Morales, who served as the lone bright spot for the lethargic RC Cola-Air Force side in the previous edition of the Grand Prix, is said to be the gold standard among reinforcements due to her professionalism, work ethic and winning attitude.

She will be partnered with former Oregon State University star Laura Schaudt, an explosive opposite hitter who can do everything on the floor from spiking to blocking, digging and passing.

They will form the nucleus of this vastly-improved HD Spikers squad together with new recruits Paneng Mercado, Janine Marciano and Venus Bernal, the former University of Santo Tomas star who will be making her return after a long hiatus.

Mainstays Jheck Dionela, Cherry Vivas and Michelle Laborte would still be there to provide veteran leadership on the floor.

Acaylar said although they are still waiting for the arrival of a Filipino-American setter from Hawaii, their team is already complete and ready to rumble.

[quote]I like the composition of my team.

I can say that this is really a fighting team. Everybody is capable of bringing in huge numbers every game.[/quote]

Petron Tri-Activ Spikers

Serena Warner & Stephanie Niemer

After failing to secure the services of Alaina Bergsma, Petron did the next best thing, which is to tap an equally disciplined former NCAA Division I star and team her up with a high-scoring open spiker with the same quality as Kristy Jaeckel.

At 6-foot-0 Serena Warner seems like whom the doctor ordered for the Tri-Activ Spikers to shore up their net defense following the departure of Remy Palma, who is set to rejoin Far Eastern University together with Bernadeth Pons and Kyle Negrito.

And to further improve their offense, the Tri-Activ Spikers hired the services of Stephanie Niemer, an exciting spiker who is set to compete in the FIVB Women’s Club World Championship this October at the Mall of Asia Arena.

Newly appointed Petron coach Shaq Delos Santos said they are happy with their acquisition since Warner can play lock up net defense while former Cincinnati star Niemer can deliver the firepower at almost all angles, similar to what she did when she played as reinforcement for French, Puerto Rican and Azerbaijan clubs.

[quote]I am confident that they can address our needs both on offense and on defense.

We really pushed hard to acquire them because they are what we exactly need.[/quote]

Foton Tornadoes

Lindsay Stalzer & Ariel Usher

It will be a sacrilege if we say that Foton should not be mentioned in championship discussion.

The Tornadoes did their homework as they fly in a pair of prolific, proven imports in Lindsay Stalzer and Ariel Usher, a month earlier than those of other teams.

They also went through a one-week tourney in Sisaket, Thailand and played together in the previous AVC Asian Women’s Club Championship.

And as gravy to the already positive buildup they hired an Italian tactician in Fabio Menta to coach the team that is beaming with talent, confidence and firepower.

Stalzer, the reigning Most Valuable Player of the Grand Prix, is a proven leader. In fact, during the AVC tourney last week, she fell prey to a bad back, but it didn’t matter as she supplied the veteran leadership on her young teammates like EJ Laure, Cherry Rondina, Rhea Dimaculangan, Maika Ortiz and Jaja Santiago.

Usher, on the other hand, is one of the league’s best in the open position.

She can turn a broken play into an excellent execution and can drop bombs even from the backrow. She’s also an excellent server who can do a little bit of everything aside from lighting up the scoreboard.

With Stalzer and Usher at the wings with Santiago and Ortiz at the middle, these Tornadoes would be scary, actually, very scary.

Generika Lifesavers

Darlene Ramdin & Polina Liutikova

Nothing much has been said or written about Darlene Ramdin of Trinidad and Tobago and Polina Liutikova of Ukraine except that they are both veterans of the tough European volleyball circuit.

A 6-foot-5 middle blocker, hopes are high on Ramdin, who saw action for St. John’s University in the Division I of the US NCAA before plying her trades in the CEV, a top-flight commercial league in Europe.

She also campaigned for the national women’s team of Trinidad and Tobago in the North, Central and Caribbean (NORCECA) Volleyball Championship where the battled top American teams like Mexico, Cuba, Canada, United States and Puerto Rico, led by Lynda Morales.

On the other hand, Liutikova is also a premier talent.

She is a gifted scorer at 6-foot-2 who saw action in European circuit, including stops in Poland, Romania, Italy and Russia.

They arrived Friday and Generika coach Francis Vicente is still clueless on their performance aside from knowing that both of them can light up the scoreboard, which is something that they lacked last conference.

Vicente expects both Ramdin and Liutikova to blend seamlessly to the local crew headed by veteran setter Rubie de Leon and the young turks of Chloe Cortez, Ria Meneses, Shaya Adorador and Wensh Tiu.

[quote]Ramdin is a middle blocker and an all-around player while Polina is an outside hitter.

Both of them are veterans of European leagues and served as scorers of their respective teams. I think they are what we need.[/quote]