Hope springs eternal for Cignal

Sunday, 20 Nov 2016
Nads Ong - Correspondent - @nadineisreal
Cignal HD’s route to the play-offs hit a major bump as it lost to un-fancied Generika Lifesavers but Sammy Acaylar hasn’t lost hope completely.

Cignal suffered a flattening 15-25, 20-25, 22-25 setback to erstwhile winless Generika squad in the 2016 Philippine Superliga (PSL) Grand Prix Saturday at the Philsports Arena.

The loss was a major blow to Cignal.

The HD Spikers are now pressured to win their last two games of the preliminaries against reigning champion Foton and RC Cola-Army if they want to avert a possible head-on collision with mighty F2 Logistics in the playoffs.

Winning over Foton is nearly impossible as the Tornadoes have a pair of veteran imports in Ariel Usher and Lindsay Stalzer as well as Jaja Santiago, who formally returned from a 12-day training in Japan. Same goes with the Lady Troopers, who are now reaching their peak form after crushing them in straight sets in an out-of-town game last Tuesday.

With that, the HD Spikers have to pull off a miracle to keep their heads above water. But with the way things are going, their climb to the top would surely be a grueling journey for the HD Spikers.

High hopes

Hopes were high when Cignal kicked off the tournament.

Cignal head coach Sammy Acaylar was the busiest person in the off-season as he acquired Janine Marciano from BaliPure and Paneng Mercado from F2 Logistics. He also brought in Mylene Paat and Lourdes Patilano as well as a Filipino-American setter in Shawna-Lei Santos.

But his biggest recruit was the Most Valuable Player in the league’s inaugural season – Venus Bernal.

Acaylar said Bernal’s task was not to light up the scoreboard, but to serve as a leader in a team that is overflowing with stars and mainstays like Jheck Dionela, Micmic Laborte and Len Cortel.

But all hopes started to fizzle out when Cignal lost one by one.

Their best player in Puerto Rican import Lynda Morales crashed with a season-ending foot injury while Santos suffered a twisted ankle after slipping in the bathroom of the Malolos Sports and Convention Center. They lost all but one game – a five-set escape of erstwhile winless Generika – and were greatly reduced from the league’s strongest team into cellar-dwellers.

But Acaylar is taking everything positively, pointing at the league’s gruelling schedule as the main reason of their downfall.

Well, maybe they’re off. I saw how they played and they were really down. Maybe it’s because of the schedule of games and practices. They don’t have enough time to recover.

He said the absence of Morales is such a big blow to their campaign.

As far as morale and physical, it really affects the team. My players are heavily relying on her. They know what Olympians can do. All we can do now is to accept that she’s gone and find a person who can replace her.

Major adjustment

Acaylar noted that to solve their problem, he has to tap another grizzled veteran who can help establish the connection between the setter and the spikers.

He needs somebody who can stabilize their shaky offense since Santos has yet to fully establish the connection with Filipino spikers after spending her collegiate career competing for St. John’s University in Division I of the USA NCAA.

That person is Chie Saet – a proven playmaker who won a handful of accolades for La Salle in the UAAP.

Sources said Saet was already being eyed by Acaylar since the start of the Grand Prix. But her contract with a club team in the other league made it difficult for her to transfer.

Fortunately, the rival league already wrapped up its season, making it possible for Saet to united with Acaylar.

Acaylar said the marching order of the seasoned playmaker was to create more scoring opportunities, more quick plays for import Laura Schaudt, Paat, Mercado, Bernal and Marciano.

I talked to her and I told her that we will not win if we’re going to use basic plays. I told her to come up with quick and combination plays. She has to be creative. She has to utilize the power, height and leaping ability of our spikers.

Despite the woes, despite the heartbreaks, Acaylar is not running out of hope.

This is not yet the end. We just need to have a strong bounce back performance in our next game. There’s still chance to get into the Final Four.

Acaylar finally flashed a dry, sarcastic grin.

He knows it’s going to be an uphill climb. But he will do everything to make it on top.