The HD Spikers are expected to go all out in their 5 pm encounter, especially with Rio Olympics veteran Lynda Morales of Puerto Rico and 6-foot-5 Laura Schaudt of the United States challenging the powerhouse tandem of Sydney Kemper and Hayley Spelman, the 6-foot-7 opposite who will be formally making her debut after missing the Cargo Movers’ first two games.
But the main attraction in this much-anticipated battle is the collision among local players. Venus Bernal, the league’s first ever Most Valuable Player, will be making her return to test the mettle of the league’s young guns in Ara Galang, Aby Marano, Cha Cruz as well as Kim Fajardo and Mika Reyes, who are both still fresh from representing the club in the FIVB Women’s Club World Championship which the country hosted two weeks ago.
The last time Bernal stepped on the PSL court was in 2013. A lot of things happened since then and the college girls have now blossomed into the league’s superstars.
[quote]That’s why I’m not expecting really much. I know the level of competition had already improved. So I take it as a challenge to prove myself and play my best against the league’s best players.[/quote]
La Salle reunion
Aside from Bernal’s return, also expected to draw attention is the clash of former La Salle star Paneng Mercado with her former team. Mercado, the daughter of Asia’s sprint queen Lydia de Vega-Mercado, spent her entire PSL career campaigning for Ramil de Jesus’ squad starting with AirAsia, Generika, Shopinas, Meralco and F2 Logistics.
But in a stunning development in the off-season, Mercado joined the HD Spikers as her work with Meralco could no longer accommodate the training schedule of the Cargo Spikers. Mercado is one of the several former Lady Spikers who made a leap of faith.
Marano, at one point, also did the same when she joined Petron to win the 2015 PSL All-Filipino Conference crown. She, however, returned to de Jesus’ good graces starting this season and powered the Cargo Movers to the 2016 PSL All-Filipino Conference title.
Cignal coach Sammy Acaylar, however, clarified that there’s no bad blood boiling between Mercado and her former teammates.
[quote]They’re still friends. It just so happened that Paneng could no longer go to F2 Logistics’ training in La Salle due to the massive traffic coming from her work at the Meralco head office in Ortigas. So it’s more practical and productive for her if she’ll join a team that trains somewhere near her work area.[/quote]
In lieu of Mercado, F2 Logistics signed a pair of former Cignal stalwarts in Djanel Cheng and Janine Navarro. Cheng and Navarro’s move was logical since they bannered La Salle’s sister team – College of Saint Benilde – to the NCAA crown last year. Also, Cheng used to be the playmaker of de Jesus at Shopinas while her sister, Desiree, is part of the La Salle Lady Spikers in the upcoming UAAP season, making her transition seamless.
Mercado and Bernal are not the only new faces in the Cignal side. Filipino-American setter Shawna-Lei Santos, middle blocker Mylene Paat, setter Lourdes Patillano and spiker Janine Marciano would also display their brilliance against the reigning PSL All-Filipino titlists. Santos is a prized recruit from the St. John University in New York while Paat, Patillano and Marciano campaigned in the V.League.
Of course, Micmic Laborte, Jheck Dionela, Cherry Vivas and Len Cortel will still be there to provide leadership on the floor.
[quote]I really like the composition of my team. Everybody is a leader and capable of stepping up when the game is on the line. I just hope that our strength on paper will translate into something good for Cignal.[/quote]
But Acaylar remains wary.
[quote]We know F2 Logistics is hungry for a win. We have to work hard because this team is serious to claim its first win in the PSL.[/quote]
Again, strength on paper doesn’t translate into victories. And that’s the big challenge for Acaylar and his wards.