Wrapping up our preview of the eight competing teams in the 2019 Philippine Superliga (PSL) All Filipino Conference (AFC), we now check out the two teams that have been protagonists in the finals for the past six regular conferences of the league: F2 Logistics and Petron.
F2 Logistics Cargo Movers
The Cargo Movers have come up short the past two tournaments to their archrivals due to key injuries to several key players, most notably national team mainstays Kim Fajardo and Kim Kianna Dy, and the maternity leave of team captain Cha Cruz-Behag.
Despite this, F2 has still found a way to repel the rising programs and have stretched Petron in the last two titular series. This makes the signing of former United Volleyball Club (UVC) top scorer Kalei Mau even more intriguing for the fans of the yellow and red in the PSL.
Mau now joins a frontline that will be including the returning collegians from De La Salle University (DLSU) and reports have it that Dy is almost at optimum health.
While Fajardo is still listed in the official line-up, it is common knowledge that she will continue to rehab her broken finger for a few more months with the injury being so severe that the Calatagan, Batangas native's name was stricken from those being considered for the national team for the upcoming 30th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in November.
Cabanos churned out a yeoman's effort during the Cargo Movers' incredible run during the recently concluded PSL Grand Prix (GP) and is still tapped to start at the setter's position despite the return of Cobb.
Dy is already being listed as "probable" for their tournament opener against the Generika-Ayala Lifesavers on Saturday but if she's still not good to go, Cheng will see a lot of burn. The 22-year-old played her final collegiate season and will now be full-time member of the squad and will be the le3ader of the second unit.
Mau's signing is huge, however.
The league's premier power hitter during the GP will be filling it up on the wings with Galang (the league's best local outside hitter during the GP) while Maraño now gets some much-needed help down the middle with the return of the Lady Spikers' giants in Ogunsanya and Clemente-although Baron becomes the prime defensive stopper once Maraño goes to the back line.
Macandili, a former league MVP and five-time Best Libero awardee, will not be coming from a long UAAP season unlike in previous years and will be fresh to once again dominate the floor patrolling. Macandili's gung-ho defense helped make Cabanos shine in the GP and now that Mau is in harness, the offensive juggernaut from floor to hit has gone up several notches.
Petron Blaze Spikers
The team to still beat, though, is the two-time defending champions and the club seeking its seventh overall title: Petron.
The Blaze Spikers are actually going for their fourth AFC crown and the winningest team in league history has shown no signs of slowing down. With the return of its collegians, Petron got even more formidable than they already were, as ridiculous as that may seem.
How blessed is a team that welcomes back in its fold a former reserve spiker who recently was named the MVP of the UAAP women's volleyball season?
Rondina made the collegiate game her personal playground and has even earned high praise from the international volleyball community who witnessed her final playing year for the University of Santo Tomas. The Compostela, Cebu native has spread her invisible wings over countless defenses and with her ability to detonate despite her deceivingly petite frame, Rondina is seen as a near shoo-in for one of the Best Outside Spiker awards at the end of the conference-if she gets the necessary minutes to achieve a shot at that.
While it still is a big question who will get the starting nod from Coach Shaq, Rondina has evolved into a steady, all-around presence that the Blaze Spikers could use for energy points and to get their rabid fans into the game. Last season, de los Santos utilized Rondina off the bench in lieu of Pons, but it wouldn't be such a farfetched notion to have the #SiPons combo on the floor together.
That would open up more opportunities down the middle for Reyes and Palma and perhaps even get Mazio-Pontillas a bit more open looks on the right side of the court. Regardless, Petron's offense is rock solid with Rondina joining the fray and with the activation of former Sta. Lucia reserve Basas, it makes for some interesting combinations on the floor for the Blaze Spikers' coaching staff.
Basas suffered from a debilitating ear infection that sidelined this powerful and efficient scorer out of the Far Eastern University (FEU). For her to be medically cleared to resume volleyball activities adds another legitimate threat with length on the wings for Petron. Many liken Basas' game to a young and rawer Angeli Tabaquero (ironically herself a former Petron ace) and being just a shade under six feet tall is also an asset on the defensive end at the net.
The retirement of diminutive Gaiser saddened many who will no longer be seeing her bubbly personality on the floor. The University of the Philippines (UP) product announced on her social media account earlier this year that the GP would be her final sortie in the PSL as she now goes to medical school.
But "Buding" is back for the Blaze Spikers and in the pre-Lazaro era, the niece of former PBA MVP Kenneth Duremdes was more than enough to fill the deep zones and coverage team with her quickness and knack for reading ball flights-even on its downward motion. Duremdes will primarily serve as Lazaro's chief backup, but it would not be surprising to see them alternating on the floor patrol during the matches.
With all eight teams in the PSL ready for battle, the action is finally upon us and the questions remain:
Will Marinerang Pilipina have the right chemistry to keep up with the kind of blistering action in the league? Can Sta. Lucia ride coach Babes Castillo's positive wave en route to the playoffs? Is Alohi Robins-Hardy the answer to end Cignal's two year title drought? Does PLDT Home FIBR have the right young blood to make that necessary breakthrough? Is Kath Arado seasoned enough to give Generika-Ayala another shot at a deep run? With Jaja Santiago gaining all those experience points in Japan, will it be a return to glory for Foton? Will Kalei Mau still be the top option at F2 Logistics? Or will Petron steamroll the competition again?