Plain and simple: it is the "Force Field" on defense and the "Danamite" on offense. In between them are a very determined bunch of young upstarts hoping to keep their amazing streak alive. The Sta. Lucia Lady Realtors finished in a three-way atop the leaderboard at the end of Group A hostilities but are still the lower seed against a Foton squad that barely claimed a twice-to-beat edge in their impending match-up as the 2018 Chooks To Go Philippine Superliga (PSL) Grand Prix continues this Tuesday (April 17th) at the Filoil Flying-V Centre in San Juan City. A win by the fourth seeded Tornadoes returns them to the Final Four while Sta. Lucia hopes that that does not happen.
Canadian national team icon Reese Field and Serbian scoring machine Dana Anisova have been at the forefront of Sta. Lucia-fueled by the contrasting setting styles of youngster Rebecca Rivera and veteran Rubie de Leon.
The choice of which orchestrator gets the starting nod from newly installed Lady Realtors head coach George Pascua has thrown off many teams with Rivera's fast methods completely different from de Leon's patient precision. Pascua has also had a knack for casting Fil-American sensation MJ Phillips in various positions while new acquisition Shang Berte has been a vital contributor off the bench.
Sta. Lucia is the only team to have dealt powerhouse Petron a loss this season, and having achieved the feat in straight sets installs the Lady Realtors as a dark horse of advancing to its first ever semifinals appearance.
The unsung heroine has actually been the incredible (and oftentimes invisible) floor defense of Canadian national team libero Kristen Moncks as her deceptive quickness has been one of the key catalysts in Sta. Lucia's rise from also-rans this season. But with that in mind, Foton's 5'9" libero Kacha Vukomanovic has also been more than stellar in the Tornadoes roller-coaster campaign.
Vukomanovic, recruited to the PSL by former mentor Moro Branislav (now with Cocolife), opted to stay with the organization that took a chance on her last season and with the emergence of another Canadian national team veteran Elie Wendel teaming up with Trinidad and Tobago newcomer Channon "The Cannon" Thompson, Foton may just be gelling at the most opportune time.
The acquisition of former Far Eastern University (FEU) standout Gyzelle Sy to man the playmaker's spot has also done wonders for the team and rookie head coach Rommel Abella is now finding the correct combinations to pull off victories.
However, when news broke out that the Tornadoes have signed Diana "Tots" Carlos and Isa Molde from the freshly-eliminated University of the Philippines (UP) Lady Maroons, new depth strength has been added to an offense that primarily had skipper Din-Din Santiago-Manabat as its lone source of additional scoring from the wing.
Sy, though, has been a tremendous bright spot for Foton's upcoming semifinals aspirations, distributing like the seasoned warrior she has been touted to be and even having her middle combination of Maika Ortiz and CJ Rosario feast on late-coming frontline defenders.
This is the match-up that has now become a virtual coin flip with both sides sharing similar weaponry and two tacticians with the same aggressive philosophies.
Sta. Lucia may have the edge at middle with Field-ranked eleventh all-time by the FIVB in blocks-and ultra-veteran Mic-Mic Laborte putting a premium on net defense. However, with Wendel and Thompson it will be obvious that the wing spikers of the Tornadoes may be able to out-perform their counterparts and with Santiago-Manabat beginning to flash the deadly form she showcased prior to the ACL injury that sidelined her for nearly a year, it will be a massive barrage of points that the Lady Realtors will have to diffuse-although Phillips and Anisova are definitely no pushovers.
The liberos almost cancel each other out so it may come down to such minute details as the setters' match-ups: the Rivera-de Leon combo versus the Sy-Ivy Perez tandem.
Again, this is the hardest pairing to predict.
Game time is at 7:00PM LIVE on ESPN5 with livestream on ESPN5.com.