Defending champions Petron Blaze Spikers gear up for tough Philippine Superliga Grand Prix grind

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Petron Blaze Spikers
The Petron Blaze Spikers will start their title defense in the PSL Grand Prix on Saturday, Feb. 16. -- PSL

DEFENDING Philippine Superliga Grand Prix champions Petron Blaze Spikers begin their title defense on Saturday, in a tournament they view as not going to be easy with a very competitive field.

In the league’s fans’ day at the weekend, Petron coach Shaq Delos Santos said that while they are coming back with an intact core, work is still cut out for them if they are to repeat as champions in the Grand Prix.

“I tell the team that this is an entirely new battle. This is a very competitive field. We can’t be complacent. We have to be at our best every game if we want to retain our crown. We have to give our 100% game in and game out,” said Mr. Delos Santos, who also guided his team to the All-Filipino title last year.

Bannering Petron’s campaign in the about-to-start tournament is the seasoned core of Mika Reyes, Aiza Maizo-Pontillas, Frances Molina and Rhea Dimaculangan, backstopped by reinforcements Stephanie Niemer and Katherine Bell and new libero recruit Denden Lazaro.

Expected to give the Blaze Spikers a run for their money in the Grand Prix are rivals F2 Logistics Cargo Movers, who now have former Petron import Lindsay Stalzer playing in tandem with American-Italian Becky Perry.

Petron and F2 Logistics have been steady fixtures against each other in the finals in the last two seasons of the PSL.

Also out to make waves are United Volleyball Club, bannered by the solid core of Kalei Mau and new recruits Alohi Robins-Hardy, Amy Ahomiro, Bang Pineda with imports Tai Manu-Olevao and Yasmeen Bedart-Ghani; Generika-Ayala with Azerbaijan national team star Kseniya Kocyigit and Brazilian stalwart Nikolle del Rio; and Cignal featuring skipper Rachel Anne Daquis with Anastasia Artemeva of Azerbaijan and Erica Wilson of the United States as reinforcements.

Competing as well are Sta. Lucia, Foton and PLDT Fibr.

The Lady Realtors will display the scoring prowess of NCAA Division I standouts Molly Lohman and Casey Schoenlein while Foton, which will be missing the services of towering sisters Jaja Santiago and Dindin Manabat, will rely on former Turkish national team member Selime Ilyasoglu, and American Courtney Felinski.

PLDT, playing previously under Smart, will make a return with Grace Lazard and Kendra Dahlke as reinforcements.

“Everybody is a contender. This is going to be a wide open and competitive race so we have to prepare hard against everybody,” said Mr. Delos Santos.

The PSL Grand Prix kicks off on Feb. 16 at the Ynares Arena in Pasig City, Matches will be broadcast over ESPN5 and 5Plus. — Michael Angelo S. Murillo