Foton came up with a masterpiece of a performance, carving out a 22-25, 25-18, 25-22, 25-14 victory over Petron to cop the top spot of the 2016 Philippine Superliga (PSL) Grand Prix semifinals late Thursday at the FilOil Flying V Center in San Juan.
The Tornadoes were at their full strength.
Import Lindsay Stalzer delivered a sizzling performance, finishing with 25 kills while Jaja Santiago erupted for 15 attacks, three blocks and three aces for Foton, which would face the winner between RC Cola-Army and Generika in the sudden-death semifinals starting Dec. 3 at the Ibalong Centrum for Recreation in Legazpi City.
The victory wasn’t really expected.
Foton coach Moro Branislav made no secret that they are not gunning for a win. Instead, they are using the match as a training ground for the tough battle ahead in the semifinals and, if luck rolls their way, in the best-of-three finals.
Branislav added that his team is still far from perfect so he’s breaking it down gently, believing that the real battle is in the next round where teams are tipped to display everything they’ve got just to knock the Tornadoes out of their lofty position as reigning champions.
But in a highly-anticipated match that featured impressive display of volleyball brilliance and firepower between two of the league’s best players in Stephanie Niemer and Stalzer, the Tornadoes went all out to give Petron a glimpse of what to expect just in case they clash in the finals.
Was posting an emphatic win really part of Branislav’s playbook? Or, rather, did these hungry Tornadoes defy the wish of the seasoned Serbian guru and went full blast instead of taking it easy in anticipation for the tough grind ahead?
‘It is important’
Although Branislav tried his best to to downplay the impact of the match, sideliners believe that it was probably one of the most important matches of the season.
In fact, had Foton lost to Petron, it would take the second seed in the semifinals and would be stacked against mighty F2 Logistics, who are tipped to have an easy time overcoming a depleted Cignal squad in the playoffs.
The Cargo Movers crushed the Tornadoes in four sets in Imus City two weeks ago. Although Jaja Santiago was not around at that time, the setback still served as a huge blackeye as it spoiled the Tornadoes’ bid to match Petron’s 13-0 sweep of the All-Filipino Conference last year.
That’s why Stalzer admitted that no matter how Branislav tried to downplay the importance of their final match of the preliminaries, she still gave her best and led her team to victory.
With the victory, Foton assumed the top spot in the semifinals and will face a lighter assignment in the winner between RC Cola-Army and Generika, two teams whom the Cargo Movers easily clobbered in the preliminaries.
Santiago, however, said the outcome of the match against Petron doesn’t really matter. She said the important thing is that they gave their all and the victory was just a bonus.
Shortly after the win, Branislav entered the pressroom looking far from satisfied.
He said what the Tornadoes showed was just a fraction of their real game since they are still missing two of their prized bench players in Sisi Rondina and EJ Laure while import Ariel Usher has a mild injury and Dindin Manabat and Santiago not yet ready for their respective roles.
He reiterated his claim that the victory doesn’t mean a thing because the real battle is not the preliminaries – it is in the semifinals where one loss can put everything into waste.
But Branislav said now that they emerged victorious, they would use the next 10 days to prepare and correct the little mistakes they did in the past.
He said they would make sure to be ready for the real battle. And there, they can no longer afford to take things lightly.