Cignal opens a new chapter in its storied franchise when it battles F2 Logistics in the 2016 Philippine Superliga Grand Prix on Thursday at the FilOil Flying V Center in San Juan.
The HD Spikers are tipped to take the tournament by storm. Aside from drafting Olympian Lynda Morales and 6-foot-5 Laura Schaudt, Cignal will also parade a souped-up roster bannered by Filipino-American Shawna-Lei Santos, Mylene Paat, Lourdes Patillano, Janine Marciano, Arlene Bernardo and Stephanie Mercado.
Only veterans Micmic Laborte, Jheck Dionela, Len Cortel and Cherry Vivas are the holdovers from the team that suffered a string of heart-breaking finishes.
Among the new recruits, there is one player highly expected to carry the torch for the HD Spikers.
Her name is Venus Bernal.
Arguably one of the best spikers ever to play in local arena, Bernal’s return is a major boost for the HD Spikers, who are looking for additional veteran presence when the game is on the line.
Bernal, after all, is the league’s first ever Most Valuable Player awardee and she remains in tip-top shape as she takes good care of her body and compete in company tournaments despite being away from semi-professional league for the past three years. But marching back into the PSL – a league that used to be her little kingdom – is easier said than done.
[quote]I’m still nervous. This is my first game after three years so I really don’t know what to expect.
But I don’t take that nervousness negatively. Instead, I take it as a challenge. I take it as my way of motivating myself to push harder. I want to prove myself again against the best players in the league.[/quote]
Bringing Bernal back to the PSL wasn’t an overnight process.
Cignal coach Sammy Acaylar admitted that he moved heaven and earth just to convince Bernal to give the PSL another chance.
After all, with her good condition, she can still play at a very high level and maybe – just maybe – run away with another MVP plum.
Acaylar added Bernal has a full-time job and was seriously being pursued by a lot of teams, making it hard for him to make a pitch.
[quote]It was such a long process.
Actually, I’m texting her every conference to inquire about her availability. Since she has a full-time job and playing in her company’s team, it was really impossible for me to bring her back.[/quote]
Finally, Bernal opened her doors for Acaylar.
[quote]There was a violent storm at that day when she decided to accept my invitation for a meeting.
The traffic was so bad and she was already waiting for me at Robinsons Galleria. The mere fact that she was patient enough to wait for me means that she’s serious in accepting my offer.[/quote]
Bernal accepted Acaylar’s offer, but expressed fear over the high level of play of the PSL compared to what it used to be three years ago. She said she wants to take it slowly since she’s not getting any younger and had a history of knee injury.
But Acaylar assured her that everything would be taken care of.
[quote]I told her that I will treat her gently in training. I know she’s no longer getting any younger and stressful training would do more harm than good. All I need is her commitment and leadership that she can pass on to young players.
But I was surprised to see that she’s in great shape. She can still perform at a high level and has what it takes to dominate the league.[/quote]
But dominating the PSL like she used to do is easier said than done. And Bernal knows that.
She stressed that the PSL is no longer the league it used to be as the likes of Jaja Santiago, Ara Galang, Sisi Rondina, Mika Reyes and Frances Molina are all dominating the league while players whom she used to play before are already playing the role of older statesmen in their respective teams.
In fact, one of her college teammate, Mary Jean Balse of RC Cola-Army, is no longer active after giving birth recently.
[quote]A lot of things have changed. The league now has so many good players.
That’s why I’m not expecting much. I will just go there and give my best without any expectations. I will treat ever game as if it is my last.[/quote]
Acaylar, however, begged to disagree.
[quote]Venus is just being humble; that’s what I like about her. I saw her in training and she’s still very good. She still has what it takes to produce good numbers provided that she can establish that connection with our new setter from Hawaii (Santos).[/quote]
Bernal said her performance may not be like that in 2013 again, but she will give her best to lead Cignal to its first title and regain her lofty spot in the PSL kingdom.
The Queen is coming. And she’s ready to assume the very throne she used to sit on