Preview: Familiarity can bring the Foton Tornadoes Blue Energy over the hump

2018 Season Finish
PSL Grand Prix: 3rd Place
PSL Invitationals: 7th Place
PSL All-Filipino Cup: 5th Place

Key Losses: Arriane Layug (injury), Bea de Leon (UAAP)

Key Additions: Elaine Kasilag

Imports: Courtney Felinski and Selime Ilyasoglu

Key Returnees: Maika Ortiz, Carmina Aganon, Shaya Adorador, Jen Reyes

Head Coach: Aaron Velez

Not so long ago, the Foton Tornadoes Blue Energy were the queens of the PSL Grand Prix with Jaja Santiago, Dindin Santiago-Manabat, Lindsay Stalzer, and Ariel Usher. But that seems to be a distant memory for Stalzer is with F2, Usher is playing overseas, and the Santiago sisters are playing in the Japanese V.League. Only Maika Ortiz and Ivy Perez were the remaining players from that championship squad. They are still making their way towards becoming a legitimate contender again.

Familiarity will not be an issue though as the Aaron Velez-mentored squad has retained their lineup from the All-Filipino Conference except for Elaine Kasilag who will be filling in for the injured Arianne Layug. It also helped that their imports Selime Ilyasoglu and Courtney Felinski arrived early to have ample time in learning Velez’ system.

Serving his second tournament as Foton head coach, Velez thinks that having their imports come in earlier will help their in-game flow. “Our team is fortunate enough that our imports are already here. We are just trying to maximize our chemistry as much as possible because both of our imports are new here in the league. Second, I appreciate also that the ladies are picking up from the last conference. I think we are good.”

They were indeed good early on in last year’s AFC. But everything went south after their 4-0 start. Injuries to Layug and Adorador did not help either as they finished fifth out of the eight teams. But now that Adorador is back and the imports are in the fold, Velez’ approach is to win every little duel they can to eventually conquer the bigger battles.

“Like our mantra from last conference, we would like to be at the podium. However, we look at it at one point at a time, one game at a time to lessen also the expectations. From last season to this season, I think it’s in the polishing side that we need to work on. Therefore, we focus more on the system and high hopes for a good run this year,” Velez added.

For team captain Gyselle Sy, the adjustment is very easy even with reinforcements coming as they have been together for a long time. “Hindi naman ganun kalaking adjustment yung ginagawa sa amin kasi almost two years na kaming magkakasama so yung jelling and being intact ng team namin on and off the court siguro madali na sa amin para ibigay ang lahat sa laro. Konting adjustment na lang kasi maganda naman pinapakita ng bawat isa sa amin.”

That deep knowledge of each other’s game could be the catalyst for the Foton Tornadoes Blue Energy in securing a podium finish or even reclaiming the title that was once theirs. Now that their imports will somehow fill in the void left by the Santiago sisters, things can fall into place as long as everyone remains healthy.