The HD Spikers are the heavy underdogs.
They won only once in the 10-game preliminaries and lost its best player – Puerto Rican Olympian Lynda Morales – to injury. Their playmaker, Filipino-American Shawna-Lei Santos, has yet to connect with spikers Janine Marciano, Mylene Paat and Paneng Mercado, who are all suiting up for Cignal for the first time this conference.
Yes, Cignal has veterans in Jheck Dionela, Michelle Laborte and Cherry Vivas, but they, too, couldn’t grasp the sudden change of rotation brought by the unexpected injury of Morales, their prized middle blocker.
True enough, Cignal is a picture of frustration. And clashing with F2 Logistics, a team known for its discipline, firepower and rock-solid defense, is like kissing its championship hopes goodbye.
But Cignal coach Sammy Acaylar found an answer.
She may not be flashy or heady, but she surely gets the job done. More than anything else, she knows F2 Logistics head coach Ramil de Jesus like the back of her hand.
Whenever discussion shifts to De La Salle University and its glorious title runs in the past decade, the first players often mentioned are Manilla Santos, Desiree Hernandez, Carissa Gotis, Michelle Gumabao, Melissa Gohing, Aby Marano, Cha Cruz and Mercado.
But little did they know that behind these gigantic names, there’s one player who never hugged the limelight, somebody who served as engine that kept this fighting green machine producing titles after another.
Her name is Relea Ferina Saet.
Saet served as the fuel that kept the La Salle engine running during the Lady Spikers title runs in the 2004, 2005 and 2006 UAAP seasons. Together with Maureen Penetrante, Hernandez, Gotis and Santos, they turned La Salle into a powerhouse and de Jesus into a coaching genius.
Among her former teammates, Gotis remains very much involved in volleyball as she serves as assistant coach of de Jesus with the Cargo Movers.
This familiarity, this connection is something that could work to Cignal’s advantage. And de Jesus knows that.
De Jesus said putting another setter in is a stroke of a genius.
Aside from Saet, Mercado is also tipped to provide Acaylar with valuable information on how to overcome de Jesus and these Cargo Movers.
It’s no secret that Cignal is greatly struggling with Santos calling the plays.
First, she is used to American brand of game after cutting her teeth in the volleyball courts of New York. Second, she hardly knows local players given their limited time together.
That’s why when Morales crashed with an injury, Acaylar did the next best thing which is to tap a grizzled veteran in Saet. After all, she was part of Cignal’s roster before and used to be Marciano’s teammate in another club from the rival Shakey’s V-League.
Acaylar added that all previous records, all previous heartaches should be thrown out of the window because the playoffs is an entirely different arena.
Acaylar said Saet and Mercado’s familiarity to de Jesus’ system would surely be their biggest advantage. After all, in the art of war, knowing the the opposition is an absolute must.