Shaq out to shock the world

Thursday, 17 Nov 2016
Nads Ong - Correspondent - @nadineisreal

Petron is on a rampage as it punched its seventh victory after clobbering Generika in four sets in the 2016 Philippine Superliga (PSL) Grand Prix late Tuesday at the Imus Sports Complex.

The Tri-Activ Spikers were simply dominant.

Stephanie Niemer asserted herself early on as she towed Petron to a quick 2-0 set lead. Although things got a little testy in the third set as the Lifesavers clawed their way out of a possible straight-set shout out, the power hits of Niemer and the rock-solid defense of Serena Warner and CJ Rosario enabled the Tri-Activ Spikers to run away with the victory.

Earlier, Petron’s biggest rival, Foton, absorbed a painful setback to F2 Logistics.

Without Jaja Santiago to man the middle as well as EJ Laure and Sisi Rondina for additional firepower, the Tornadoes’ defense collapse as Maika Ortiz and Dindin Manabat had a rough night, allowing Lindsay Stalzer and Ariel Usher to play defense while lighting up the scoreboard.

With that, Petron is now on top of the team standings with a 7-1 win-loss card while the Tornadoes fell to second spot with 6-1. Although both the Tri-Activ Spikers and the Tornadoes are already in the semifinals, the next few games will still be crucial as the race for the top spot in the next round heats up.

But aside from one person, nobody expected Petron to make it this far.

Nobody thought that Petron would demolish F2 Logistics, Cignal, RC Cola-Army and other heavyweights en route to tallying the league’s best record entering the crucial stretch of the preliminaries except for one person.

And that person is its head coach – Shaq Delos Santos.

Less is more

Unlike other teams, Petron never had a significant buildup in the off-season.

While Foton stacked its lineup with a proven star in Dindin Manabat and a foreign coach in Moro Branislav, Cignal tapped Mylene Paat, Paneng Mercado, Janine Marciano and Filipino-American Shawna-Lei Santos while reactivating former Most Valuable Player Venus Bernal.

Even F2 Logistics beefed its roster with former College of Saint Benilde stars Djanel Cheng and Janine Navarro.

For its part, Petron recruited nobody, but a backup setter in April Ross Hingpit, who was released by Cignal in the wake of its massive rebuilding program.

Prior to that, they already lost Fille Cayetano, Rachel Anne Daquis, Aby Marano and Manabat before Remy Palma, Bernadeth Pons and Kyle Negrito opted to return to Far Eastern University. Then, brilliant tactician George Pascua followed suit that completely doomed the nucleus of the team that made history when it swept the All-Filipino Conference in 2015.

With those stars out, role players like Frances Molina, Jen Reyes, Acy Masangkay, Maica Morada, Mina Aganon and Mayette Zapanta were left together with veteran Aiza Maizo-Pontillas, Bang Pineda, Cherry Nunag and Rosario.

Delos Santos assumed the coaching chore with Edjett Mabbayad and former national team skipper Ian Fernandez as his deputies.

It was a complete revamp.

The once star-studded squad, which used to turn other teams green with envy, was reduced into a team of role players and hard workers.

Stellar import

Then, a miracle happened.

The Tri-Activ Spikers unearthed a gem of an import in Stephanie Niemer.

Petron insiders claimed that recruiting Niemer is the result of close to a month of sleepless nights viewing her film and scouting her. In fact, when she submitted her highlight reel for coaches and team owners to evaluate, at least three to four PSL teams expressed willingness to tap her no matter what it takes.

But Petron won the bidding war.

Niemer was given a partner in 6-foot-5 Serena Warner, who may not be the flashiest or the strongest, but can surely get the job done on both ends.

The source said Petron management’s move in hiring its imports was calculated.

It was a well-calculated move.

Petron knows that Niemer is such an explosive import that’s why they tapped somebody who can play great defense. Petron already has Ces and Aiza helping Niemer offensively so hiring another scorer is not logical for Petron management.

For them, less is more. Volleyball, after all, is not just about scoring. It’s about building chemistry and making the team works together as one solid unit. I think Petron has been very successful in doing that.

The source added that when Petron won the Grand Prix crown in 2014, it had a power hitter in Alaina Bergsma and a role player in playmaker Erica Adachi as reinforcements. The duo jived well with the locals, prompting the Tri-Activ Spikers to dominate RC Cola-Air Force in the finals to win the crown.

This time, it’s still the same scenario: Niemer is the star player while Serena is the role player. So as you can see, there’s a little pattern in Petron’s choice of imports.

Nothing special

Petron raced to four straight wins before surrendering a very tight five-set loss to Foton.

In that match, Niemer was simply superb delivering a conference-high 38 points, much to the delight of the fans who were fortunate enough to witness a super import at work.

The following game, Niemer dropped nine aces on the Cargo Movers, easily making her cinch for the Most Valuable Player award.

Amid these successes, Delos Santos remains humble.

We’re not doing anything special. We’re just working hard and doing everything to win.

Speaking amid the noisy post-game celebration shortly after they downed Generika, Delos Santos said they wouldn’t rest on their laurels as they are eyeing a better position in the semifinals.

Although they are already on top of the heap with Foton crumbling to F2 Logistics early in the day, they still can’t afford to relax as anything can still happen with the league entering the crucial stretch of the preliminaries.

We can’t afford to relax because we’re targeting a better position (in the semifinals). We still have two games left, we’re planning to go all out.

Delos Santos was Pascua’s chief deputy when Petron had a glorious run. Up to now, the feat has yet to be broken with Foton absorbing its first setback of the conference.

He said Foton’s bid to go for a sweep could be Branislav’s motivation to his young Tornadoes.

I can’t comment on that.

All coaches have their own ways of motivating their players. For us, we will just continue working to have good performance. I hope we can further improve and the jelling of the team would continue. It’s still a long way to go.

We will always prepare our players and explained what we need to improve on. Yes, there’s pressure, that’s why we have to do our best, prepare and study our opponent to be able to handle the pressure.

Then, the rookie mentor politely excused himself to join the team in its celebration.

He may not admit, but he’s obviously doing a terrific job.

His marching order is clear: He’s here to shock the world.

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