It was billed as a simple face-off between two of the country’s best club teams but blossomed into a full-blown war of attrition as Foton and Petron delivered a dazzling display of volleyball brilliance and wizardry when they clashed for the first time in the 2016 Philippine Superliga Grand Prix.
Both of them have powerful imports in Stephanie Niemer and Lindsay Stalzer as well as well-respected mentors in Shaq Delos Santos and Serbian Moro Branislav. They are also the only teams who have won the past two editions of the Grand Prix and have experience playing against Asia’s top club teams in the AVC Asian Women’s Club Championship.
The comparison doesn’t end there.
Petron’s franchise player in top overall pick Dindin Manabat moved over to Foton in the off-season. Petron responded by signing assistant coach in Ian Fernandez, the former National Team skipper who trained the Tornadoes in the AVC Asian Women’s Club Championship and was part of Branislav’s coaching staff in the FIVB Women’s Club World Championship.
So, if there are two teams capable of essaying a great storyline of a rivalry, it’s going to be Petron and Foton. They are the yin and yang, the Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, the Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump of the PSL.
And on Tuesday, these heavyweights gave fans a good preview of what to expect if and when they find themselves staring at each other in the PSL finals.
True enough, fireworks exploded right at the get go.
Niemer, the former Cincinnati star who campaigned in major leagues in Puerto Rico and Azerbaijan, buckled down to work as she peppered the Tornadoes’ defense with hot smashes from all angles.
She finished the night with 34 kills, three aces and a block while delivering 13 digs and 10 excellent receptions for a conference-high 38 points in what is probably one the most impressive all-around individual performances in the landscape of local volleyball.
Her numbers nearly eclipsed that of former Florida star Kristy Jaeckel, who delivered 40 points for Mane ‘N Tail in the Grand Prix two years ago.
Stalzer, for her part, registered 23 kills, four blocks and a pair of aces for the Tornadoes, who deployed Jaja Santiago for the last time before she embarks on a 12-day training camp with National University in Japan. But Niemer’s eye-popping numbers went for naught as the Tornadoes’ defense foiled her attack in the crucial stretch, helping them escape with a nail-biting 25-18, 23-25, 25-14, 19-25, 15-13 victory to preserve their clean win-loss card.
Branislav said it was one of the greatest matches ever coached in his entire career.
Although it’s still too early to tell, sideliners believe that the rivalry – the match made in heaven – would spill all the way to the finals, in a stage where only the toughest team will survive. But Delos Reyes said it’s still a long way to go.
Delos Santos said they have nothing to be ashamed of. After all, they fought their hearts out and refused to die even if great odds are against them.
Delos Santos added that instead of sulking, they will pick up the pieces and move on and correct all the mistakes they made.
Yes, Petron and Foton delivered a show of a lifetime. Niemer, Stalzer, Santiago, Manabat, Maizo-Pontillas, Dimaculangan, Ortiz, Serena Warner, Ariel Usher – everybody came to play to shape what could be PSL’s greatest on-court rivalry.
It was Philippine volleyball at its finest. But still, it’s a long way to go. The battle has just begun