Stalzer – We will beat you

The ecstasy and joy of making it back to the 2016 Philippine Superliga (PSL) finals have yet to subside for Petron, but Foton import Lindsay Stalzer came up a friendly banter that sounds like the first shot in this storied rivalry.

She reportedly told the Tri-Activ Spikers – ‘We will beat you’.

Petron and Foton are two of the country’s most elite teams.

Bannered by Alaina Bergsma and Erica Adachi, Petron dominated the Grand Prix two years ago only to be dethroned by Foton last year in a thrilling three-game showdown.

In the off-season, the two teams kept on looking at each other’s side mirror to make sure that they will gain an edge in this classic duel.

Foton waged a recruiting coup when it signed up Dindin Manabat – Petron’s top overall pick in the 2014 PSL Draft. Aside from that, it also hired seasoned international mentor Moro Branislav of Serbia while bringing back Stalzer and former Cignal reinforcement Ariel Usher to team up with the vastly-improved Jaja Santiago as well as University of Santo Tomas aces Maika Ortiz, Rhea Dimaculangan, Sisi Rondina and EJ Laure.

Petron responded by tapping physical therapist Katherine Tenorio and former national team skipper and noted trainer Ian Fernandez, who resigned from the Tornadoes shortly after the AVC Asian Women’s Club Championship last September. It also promoted former deputy Shaq Delos Santos as head coach while acquiring veteran playmaker April Ross Hingpit and CJ Rosario from the draft pool.

But the biggest recruit was Stephanie Niemer.

A Petron insider said the management spent countless sleepless nights watching films and communicating with the former Cincinnati Wildcat to make sure that Tri-Activ Spikers would win the bidding war over teams like Cignal and Generika.

True enough, Niemer was good as advertised

She is a tireless worker with a competitive spirit that could lift up the entire team.

With Niemer conniving with Serena Warner, Aiza Maizo-Pontillas, Ces Molina and Jen Reyes, Petron destroyed all teams in the preliminaries, but failed to beat one team it has been itching to clobber all year long – Foton.

That’s why this best-of-three finals series would be an emotional battle between two heavyweights very much eager to beat the hell out of each other.

And it was Stalzer who delivered the first jab: We will beat you.

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War of attrition

Sources who have deep knowledge of the backstories in this rivalry revealed that both Foton and Petron are not fond of each other.

In fact, when Branislav was training PSL-F2 Logistics Manila for the prestigious FIVB Women’s Club World Championship last October, he got into a shouting match with a Petron team official over the training schedule of Niemer, Reyes and Molina.

Petron trains from 6 pm to 9 pm. But with the world championships drawing near, Branislav wanted to have a complete team that will train in the morning and play friendly games in the evening, something which heavily affected Petron’s schedule as Niemer, Molina and Jen Reyes also play a vital role in its buildup.

The source didn’t reveal too much information, but admitted that it was the start of the Tri-Activ Spikers’ eagerness to beat Branislav’s squad.

That flame of eagerness was further fueled by Branislav’s public statement that winning their final game of the preliminaries over Petron is not among his priorities.

[quote]Coach Moro is a well-respected mentor and a master tactician. He would never hesitate to get into your head. He would beat you even without his team scoring a single kill. That’s the name of the game in international tournament. He has a penchant for testing the mental toughness of the opposing mentor.[/quote]

But the source maintained that the mutual respect remains there between Foton and Petron coaches.

[quote]Coach Moro is the mentor of Ian Fernandez in the FIVB Level 2 coaching seminar.

So basically, Petron coaches know that playing mind games is all part of Moro’s game plan. As I’ve said, he can get into your head without his team scoring a single kill.

This is going to be a war of attrition. If Petron would allow itself to get affected by Coach Moro’s brilliant tactics, then, the complexion of the series would completely shift to Foton’s favor.[/quote]

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No clear-cut edge

It’s going to be an evenly matched contest.

Fernandez, for one, doesn’t believe that his presence in the Petron bench would play a key role in this series.

The former national team skipper is very familiar with the Tornadoes’ system as he trained at least six players – Ortiz, Laure, Rondina, Dimaculangan, Manabat and Santiago – when they were still part of UST Tigresses in the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP).

Also, Delos Santos mentored UST to a UAAP crown in 2010 with Ortiz, Dimaculangan and Maizo-Pontillas serving as key players.

But Fernandez thinks it won’t work to their advantage.

[quote]Foton is good at making adjustments. As you can see during the semis against RC Cola-Army, they were pushed to the brink but came up with major adjustments that bailed them out of trouble. I think we should rather work hard and prepare rather than bank on our familiarity to their system.[/quote]

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He added that service reception would dictate the outcome of the battle.

[quote]It would play a key role, no doubt about it.[/quote]

Branislav agreed, saying that his respect to Petron remains intact, especially after the Tri-Activ Spikers came up with a semifinal win over a strong team in F2 Logistics – the only team that defeated them this conference.

[quote]Petron is a very good team. In my opinion, after playing us twice this conference, I know Petron would do some adjustments to win the series. Game 1 will be crucial. I will prepare my team for this match.[/quote]

But as coaches of both teams try to downplay their chances, it was Stalzer who stepped forward to bravely deliver the warning shot.

It was just a joke, perhaps a friendly banter, which could be taken as a serious challenge: We will beat you.

Was it a joke that is half-meant?