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PSL Grand Prix: Breaking down Cignal and PLDT Home FIBR

With the opening of the 2020 Philippine Superliga (PSL) Grand Prix just days away, ESPN5.com delves into the various personnel movement each of the eight member squads have undergone during the offseason. With many teams scurrying to upgrade from last season's finishes, several have made veritable wholesale changes while some have actually stood pat.

Cignal HD Spikers

The HD Spikers may have only lost two players during the offseason, but those were perhaps two integral parts of their success last season. Mylene Paat and Janine Navarro will now be leading the Chery Tiggo Crossovers but in their place come one of the league's most prolific scorers and one of the most versatile utility players around as Fiola Ceballos and Jinggay Bangad step in to the positions vacated.

Bangad made a name for herself as a beach volleyball specialist but has blossomed into one of the more notable lefties in the game. The 21-year-old University of Santo Tomas (UST) ace can also double as a setter, giving head coach Edgar Barroga and newly acquired deputy Shaq de los Santos (the present national team coach and former man at the helm for Petron's championships) more playmaking options should Alohi Robins-Hardy need to take a breather.

Ceballos now rekindles her partnership with national team stalwart Joevlyn Gonzaga when they were the Philippines' foremost beach volleyball tandem in the early portion of the last decade. Ceballos and Gonzaga both attended Central Philippines University (CPU) in Iloilo and will be teammates for the first time in an indoor tournament. Ceballos' presence alleviates the scoring load from perennial captain Rachel Anne Daquis and Cuban reinforcement Jennifer Yanet Alvarez.

With attempts to bring in former United Volleyball Club (UVC) import Yaasmeen Bedart-Ghani breaking down due schedule conflicts, management opted go with the 6'0" winger of the Cuban national team who made waves while playing for CS Volei Alba-Blaj in the Romanian circuit and Alvarez is foreseen to be one of the most aggressive attackers among the present crop of new reinforcements.

In all, Cignal retains its core and employs three individuals who could actually be the missing pieces of another deep run this conference.

PLDT Home FIBR Power Hitters

Head coach Roger Gorayeb has been medically cleared to resume his coaching duties despite battling Multiple Myeloma; a blood cell disease akin to leukemia. After being diagnosed with the rare ailment towards the end of last season, Gorayeb has been religiously following his treatment, which include occasional chemotherapy sessions, and has found a way to continue what he loves to do best despite his physical condition.

However, Gorayeb now comes into a squad that is now among the smallest in the PSL and will have to adjust without his top scoring option Grethcel Soltones, who opted to sign elsewhere.

Although there is still ample firepower from holdovers Shola Alvarez, Aiko Urdas and reserve Jorelle Singh, PLDT's signing of former Arellano Lady Chiefs attacker Menchie Tubiera and erstwhile Generika-Ayala backup Sheeka Espinosa gives the Power Hitters variety in the wings.

Jan Andrea Morano will help fortify the net defense after hardly seeing action for Sta. Lucia in the 2019 Grand Prix (both Realtors imports kept her on the bench) while the setting will now be handled by youngsters Vira Guillema and Necelle Gual-two of the more consistent orchestrators in the NCAA.

Gual is noted for setting a Season 92 record of 73 excellent sets in the University of Perpetual Help's conquest of Alavrez and Jose Rizal University (JRU).

However, all eyes will be on the first French import to play in the league as 28-year-old Maeva Orle brings her explosive game to the Power Hitters. The 6'0" Paris native has spent most of her career in France but was also a member of the national team in 2016 and is known as a volume hitter, reminiscent of former import Kendra Dahlke.

It will be quite a challenge for PLDT in trying to match-up height-wise but with two former national team liberos in Tatan Gata-Pantone and Alyssa Eroa starting the offense with their exceptional digging and receiving while Gual or Guillema set up the offense, the hitters could be primed to bring in results. One can never underestimate the tactics of Gorayeb in a conference wherein the Power Hitters landed a podium finish last season.