Two teams in unfamiliar territory seek to take one step closer to the Final Four of the ongoing 2018 Chooks To Go Philippine Superliga (PSL) Grand Prix playoffs as the third-seeded Cocolife Asset Managers (landing their first-ever top four position) go up against the sixth-seeded Cignal HD Spikers-losers of all three of their second round tiffs-this Tuesday (April 17th) at the Filoil Flying-V Centre in San Juan City.
Cocolife-now under the tutelage of champion Serbian mentor Moro Branislav-are enjoying a tremendous run this new season, thanks primarily to the league's second leading scorer (and former Foton reinforcement) Sara Klisura and the masterful playmaking of veteran setter Tina Salak who came out of retirement to join former Philippine Army teammates Joanne Bunag, Royse Tubino and national team buddy Ging Balse-Pabayo to fuel the Asset Managers' searing run thus far.
Being the oldest team in the league on paper has not deterred the aspirations of Cocolife in their quest to finally emerge from the doldrums of bottom squads in the PSL, and they are now on the cusp of their second straight semifinals appearance.
Klisura has been phenomenal in leading the points barrage from all angles as the 25-year-old Novi Sad native has meshed well with the locals and has the advantage of being in her second year with the same head coach as one of Branislav's first orders of business upon getting hired by the Asset Managers was to bring in his former ward from the Serbian national team.
Right before the playoffs commenced, Cocolife opted to replace veteran American import Taylor Milton with another Serbian professional campaigner in Marta Drpa, who is a mainstay with SC Potsdam in the German Bundesliga and is an active member of the Serbian national team.
With Klisura and Drpa manning the wings (and speaking the same language as their coach), the Asset Managers needed all of their firepower to overcome the Petron Blaze Boosters in their final encounter in the second round. But Drpa, a 28-year-old lefty, had just come off the plane the day prior and was obviously still jetlagged in her debut. With almost a full week's rest and cohesion achieved in training, Drpa is set to be the team's new second option with the former Lady Troopers there to lend support.
Den-Den Lazaro has also made a strong case for Best Libero with her amazing floor defense that has indirectly led to Cocolife's third place ranking heading into the playoffs.
The total team effort displayed by the Asset Managers all season long may just be enough to topple Cignal, which is reeling from the absence of national team opposite spiker Jovelyn Gonzaga and prolific hitter Janine Marciano (both out for the season with knee injuries).
Parading a potent import combination of Serbian detonator Sonja Milanovic and American high-flyer Jeane "Stiix" Horton, the HD Spikers endured a roller-coaster ride heading into the second round but have dropped all three matches in their group to fall to sixth overall.
Skipper Rachel Anne Daquis has been on and off as her leg injury has apparently not healed as fast as expected, but has still been leading the energy surge along with super libero Jheck Dionela, a rejuvenated Janine Navarro and the vibrancy of former UAAP MVP Mumay Vivas.
However, when journeyman setter Acy Masangkay struggles to distribute (usually due the lack of a consistent first ball), the entire offense breaks down and the defense, especially on the floor, overexerts.
Rookie Cignal Head Coach Edgar Barroga will have to come up with a brilliant game plan to avoid being shown the door or the first time since 2014.
With team chemistry still questionable at certain stages, Cignal must function as a cohesive unit and their floor defense must be impeccable to be able to have a chance at diffusing the Klisura-Drpa tandem while still being sharp enough to run the offense through Milanovic and Horton. Although Cocolife is the older team on paper, they are still quite quick and the HD Spikers must churn out a performance worthy of a spot in the next round.
Gametime is a 4:15PM LIVE on ESPN5 with livestream on ESPN5.com.