With the disbandment of the United Volleyball Club, the Philippine Superliga (PSL) All Filipino Conference is down to eight competing teams that will be seeing action starting Saturday at the FilOIl Flying V Centre in San Juan.
A good number of fans will be enthused at the prospect of seeing the Santiago sisters back on the floor together for the Foton Tornadoes Blue Energy and the newly formed Marinerang Pilipina Lady Skippers squad managed by former PSL and University of the Philippines (UP) standout Jed Montero.
Foton Tornadoes Blue Energy
Foton has undergone several transitions over the past few seasons since winning back-to-back PSL Grand Prix crowns in 2015 and 2016. The Tornadoes have only podiumed once in this conference and from that 2016 silver medal line-up only former skipper Maika Ortiz, the Santiago sisters and setter Ivy Perez are still with the team-although EJ Laure is coming back but will be on the injured/reserve (IR) list.
They've also paraded three different head coaches, one for each conference in 2018 with Aaron Velez looking to be the one who has found some semblance of stability as he now enters his third conference with the team.
With the Laure sisters placed on the reserve list, the Santiago sisters may be tasked to play more than two roles as Velez uses his unique interchangeable parts to his advantage, especially now that the line-up is complete.
It will be recalled that Foton did not have the services of the Santiago sisters at the onset of the season due to their commitments to play in the Japan V-League Division I but both were able to come back at the tail end of the Tornadoes' forgettable stint in the PSL GP where the club crashed in seventh place.
Jaja has already mastered the wing positions, making her perhaps the best all-around talent in the country today. She has been residing in the opposite hitter's slot for Velez and Din-Din sometimes starts at the opener's role giving more opportunities for veteran middle hitters Ortiz and Rosario to flourish. Add to that Perez's 5'10" frame and it easily is the tallest starting line-up in the league.
Aganon has relished the captainship and has churned out better numbers since acquiring that distinction while the floor patrolling of Reyes has still been at an elite level.
With the infusion of the youngsters from the collegiate ranks, Foton now has bench power; something it didn't have much of last conference.
Buitre is seen to be the one who will contribute immediately in the second unit with her explosive attacks and knack for finishing a hit with gusto. College teammate Dorog will have to settle in as Reyes' back-up, but should also be able to contribute in that realm while Bendong's setting prowess will come into play depending on the opponent for the Tornadoes.
Marinerang Pilipina Lady Skippers
While Foton is seeking to regain lost glory, Marinerang Pilipina is looking to break-in to a league with already established programs and quality personnel. However, the Lady Skippers have assembled a veritable all-star cast composed of rising collegiate stars, returning veterans and a good blend of power, tenacity and chutzpah.
For volleyball fans who have followed the sport since the early years, many will be thrilled at the prospect of seeing grizzled warrior Iratay back in the mainstream. The former national team setter when names like Monica Aleta, Ailyn Ege and Joanne Bunag (who is also still active) were still the star hitters of the game and has transitioned to help Marinerang Pilipina's young blood get the flow of PSL action when they open the season against Sta. Lucia on Saturday.
Curato and Remulla also reprise their respective roles that brought them to prominence in their heyday.
Curato was part of several UST championships playing alongside the likes of Venus Bernal, Ging Balse-Pabayo, Angeli Tabaquero and even Denise Tan, while Remulla (a former national team member as well) was also part of La Salle's early dominance alongside stars like Joy Benitez, Hollie Reyes, Sally Macasaet and eventual UAAP MVP Iris Ortega-Patrona.
The comeback of former WNCAA star Guliman is also a welcome development as she now attempts to juggle a return to the Taraflex with her corporate job at PLDT. Guliman was among the walk-ins legendary coach Emil Lontoc transformed into a national team prospect and was among the post "Holy Trinity" (Dahlia Cruz, Beverly Boto and Sherilyn Carillo-Alinsunurin) cast that still triumphed for the Lady Pirates.
They now have the task of not only keeping up with the competition of the PSL, but also help the incoming collegians in their quest to up their games to the next level.
The transition should be easy for half the team as Abil, Olarve and Rodriguez already saw action for Cherrylume in the PSL Invitational a couple of years back and the UST combo of Pacres and Viray who have had stints with Victoria Sports and Smart in the AFC. All five were in action in last year's PSL Collegiate Grand Slam.
The entry of the Racraquin sisters along with Permentilla and Oliveros ushers in the next generation of would-be difference makers in the league as these four not only bring innate volleyball skills to the proverbial table for veteran coach Dulay, but also their own fan-base who rock social media every time they take to the court.
In all, the Lady Skippers may struggle to find their initial foothold in the PSL but have the personnel to be competitive with the right mix of veterans and youth savvy.