The inclusion of superstars Rachel Anne Daquis, Jovelyn Gonzaga and Honey Royse Tubino had completely turned Cignal from a perennial tail-ender into a solid contender when it campaigns in the Philippine Superliga (PSL) Invitational Conference this March.
With such a star-studded lineup, speculations are ripe that the HD Spikers are now in a perfect position to duplicate the historic 13-0 sweep notched by Petron in the PSL All-Filipino Conference two years ago. But the chief architect of that magical feat – George Pascua – quickly extinguished the flame.
[quote]“It’s still too early to tell.”
“Yes, we are strong in paper. But we have to convert that strength into victories. The challenge for us (coaches) is how to make the team works together. It’s quite tough, but we’ll work hard to live above expectations.”[/quote]
Forming a champion
The formation of super teams like Petron in 2015 and Cignal in 2017 draws some parallelisms.
The Blaze Spikers, at that time, were hungry for success with star middle blocker Dindin Manabat carrying much of the load. At one point, Manabat dropped 37 points, proving that she’s the focal point of Petron on both ends.
With Philippine Army taking a leave, Rachel Anne Daquis suddenly became available while Aby Marano was craving for a change of scenery after years of playing under the system of her college coach, Ramil de Jesus.
Suddenly, the support that Manabat needs was readily available.
An insider said they didn’t do anything special to put such great talents together.
[quote]“The stars just aligned perfectly.”
“Rachel was tasked to support Dindin on offense while Aby will be her backer on defense. The result was very impressive as we went all the way to sweep the tournament.”[/quote]
When the smoke cleared, Daquis was hailed as Most Valuable Player, Pascua cemented his status as one of the best young coaches in the business and the Blaze Spikers made history as the only squad to sweep a PSL conference.
Following in footsteps
Two years later, Cignal appears to be following Petron’s footsteps.
The Lady Troopers are again taking a leave, prompting its star players Daquis, Gonzaga and Tubino to move to a different team — the HD Spikers.
The acquisition of the three stars is seen as a game-changer as they will join an already solid core of Mylene Paat, Janine Marciano, Paneng Mercado, Lourdes Patillano, Cherry Vivas, Jheck Dionela and Morada. For good measure, the HD Spikers also have a veteran setter who can deliver when the game is on the line in Chie Saet.
Still, Pascua refrained from making any comparison.
[quote]“Petron before and Cignal today are very much different.”
“For one, before sweeping the tournament, Petron players were already playing together while most of the players in Cignal have only played with each just other last conference. So yung jelling medyo kulang pa. That’s something we have to work on.”[/quote]
Pascua added that turning Cignal into a solid contender is a major challenge.
One of the loopholes he sees is their lack of middle blocker, something which will become a major problem once they face taller frontliners like Mika Reyes and Ria Meneses of Petron, Marano and Majoy Baron of F2 Logistics, Manabat and Jaja Santiago of Foton in the PSL All-Filipino Conference.
[quote]“That’s something we have to address.”
“Although we have Maica at the middle, we still have to make some adjustments because we’re really small. I hope we could solve it along the way.”[/quote]
Pascua added that expectations should be tempered during the Invitationals.
[quote]“Everybody would be adjusting – even us.”
“Although our new players like Rachel, Jov, Royse and Maica are all proven veterans, we still have to adjust and develop our chemistry. Tingin ko sa All-Filipino ang totoong bakbakan.”
“Right now, we don’t want to put any pressure on the players. Masyadong malayo pa yan. We just want them to enjoy the moment and play the game they love. No expectations muna tayo para di sila ma-pressure.”[/quote]
But when reminded that he also said those exact words weeks before Petron formally completed its magical sweep, Pascua unleashed a hearty laugh.
He may deny it, but at the back of his mind, he knows that there’s a handsome chance for history to repeat itself.