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PSL All-Filipino Conference Preview: Cignal and Sta. Lucia

The previews continue as we count down the days leading up to the opening of the 2019 Philippine Superliga (PSL) All Filipino Conference on Saturday at the FilOil Flying-V Centre in San Juan City. This time we focus on two teams that have shaken up their rosters in an impactful manner hoping to make a deep run and crash the party of the title favorites.

Cignal HD Spikers

Even before the official rosters were released by the league, the Cignal HD Spikers already created headlines by snaring perhaps one of the most intriguing newcomers this season as Fil-Hawaiian setter Alohi Robins-Hardy opted not to re-sign with the now defunct United Volleyball Club (UVC). News that two of their injured stars finally getting cleared to play also boosted the club's fan base and many expect a lot of positive steps forward for these HD Spikers this conference.

Alohi has no official backup. Barroga simply stated that the team elected not to include Masangkay in the lineup and will develop Vivas in that position.

However, Robins-Hardy thrived as UVC's playmaker last conference and played without relief on a regular basis. It's not everyday that the tallest member of the team is the setter and her acquisition not only gives so many options for the Cignal offense, but her length-being a former middle blocker-will finally address the HD Spikers' paltry net defense and their "converted" middle hitters in Navarro and Vivas can concentrate on supporting the 6'2" cousin of Rain or Shine's Gabe Norwood during transition.

The return of Gonzaga and Marciano have been long overdue. It appeared, though, that Cignal management wanted to be sure that their celebrated spikers are 100% recovered from the ACL tears they sustained (mere days apart) in November of 2017.

Marciano was actually medically cleared first despite suffering her injury later and has been going through thorough rehabilitation constantly. Gonzaga hit several snags in her recovery and had been mum about her progress. But when her name appeared on the Philippine Army's roster in the Premier Volleyball League (PVL), Cignal fans knew that it wouldn't be long before the "Bionic Ilongga" troops back to the PSL battlegrounds.

Gonzaga, now 27, will be serving as a mentor for the younger members of the HD Spikers and will educate them on how to execute her incredible floor patrolling, nose for the ball and vicious kills that endeared her to volleyball followers across the nation. Her first mentee will obviously be Paat, who has come in to her own after a seemingly uneventful college career. While it will appear that Paat will begin the tournament as the squad's starting opposite hitter, once Gonzaga returns Barroga can shift Paat to middle hitter so they both can share the floor-even perhaps on the same side of the rotation.

The offense will still emanate from Dionela's digs and passes and go through skipper Daquis, though, but the league's brand ambassadress will be the first to yield her production to Gonzaga once the Guimaras native begins finding her stride.

Doria's reacquisition also fortifies the central defenses while Luna and Ipac will bring their incredible skills to the forefront-perhaps sooner than many will expect.

Barroga now has most of the tools needed to make a solid run, as long as everyone stays healthy.

Sta. Lucia Realtors

New faces abound for the Sta. Lucia Realtors as rookie head coach Babes Castillo attempts to instill his winning culture in a squad that is evolving to be relevant in only its third season in the league.

While Amy Ahomiro's name still does not appear on the Realtors' final roster submitted to the league, it won't be a surprise if management inks the former UAAP Finals MVP to a deal just before their first serve on Saturday against debuting Marinerang Pilipina.

However, the question on who to strike out from a stacked roster will be what team manager Santi Edralin and his staff will have to figure out. For now, Ahomiro joins former UVC teammate Bang Pineda as the biggest names that have yet to find a new team.

After sitting out practically an entire calendar year, Phillips is now the closest to being 100% healthy from the various ailments that plagued her sophomore season and is set to lead the Realtors to what could be their deepest run yet. Phillips, another national team hopeful, tried to play on several instances despite still recuperating and actually achieved a good degree of success in terms of churning out points for her team, but now that she's had more time to rest, she can now perform without limitations and that bodes well for Castillo and his positive approach to mentoring.

Villanueva now has had a full conference under her belt in the GP and has more or less assessed how she can be a factor in Sta. Lucia's overall attack. The Malabon native will be tasked to once again rise above and beyond her diminutive stature to shatter would be blockers at the net.

With this power tandem in place, it will make Lastimosa's job a bit easier as the cerebral skipper can concentrate on contributing sporadically.

Dacoron brings insane length on the defensive end as her 6'2" wingspan coupled with tremendous timing could help address Sta. Lucia's ceiling problems. If Baliton is in top condition, then these two six-footers can diffuse many offenses and they have the youth and resolve to play heavy minutes-should the need arise.

Another intriguing addition is Troncoso, a 5'10" Ilongga who dominated the Western Visayas volleyball scene and caught the eye of several teams during the PSL's pre-season sortie in that part of the archipelago earlier in the year.

Troncoso recently graduated from Central Philippine University (CPU), the same school that produced Gonzaga and Generika-Ayala's Fiola Ceballos. The 21-year-old could create quite a splash as she was noted as an elite net defender and has the quickness to wreak havoc should Sta. Lucia choose to go down the middle on quick plays. Troncoso is the enigma that many PSL fans will be paying close attention to.

But the name that has probably generated the most interest is rookie libero Alex Bollier.

Her mother Marilou is a Filipina who graduated from De la Salle University and she started her collegiate career at the University of North Texas (UNT) before moving closer to home in Pomona, California. Bollier, who turns 23 two days after opening day, was a multi-awarded floor patroller during her high school days and brought that energy and athleticism to the collegiate ranks where she was noted for her digs-once even amassing double-digits in that department for eleven straight contests.

Sta. Lucia fans will have to wait for Jho Maraguinot's recovery from her injuries, but it appears that the Realtors will have plenty of artillery to hold the fort while the former Ateneo ace is on the mend.