Sunday, December 11, 2016

PSL Grand Prix

The 2016 PSL Grand Prix, which is the second indoor conference of the fourth season of the Philippine Superliga, concluded on December 10 and after an explosive and exciting season, the Foton Tornadoes defended their 2015 Grand Prix title by sweeping Petron Tri-Activ Spikers in the finals of the 2016 conference. While it was a sweep, it was not a walk in the park for Foton. In fact, they were close to losing in their first best-of-three finals match-up as Petron won the first 2 sets before Foton leveled to take it to a fifth set. Even then, Petron took a big lead in the fifth set (8-3) but they somehow lost steam and Foton gained confidence and momentum to turn the tables on Petron and win that important first game. The second game went four sets but Foton once again proved near-impossible to beat as they took the trophy.

I say near-impossible to beat because Foton did suffer one loss this season, to F2 Logistics during the second round of the eliminations. F2 Logistics did pretty well and their local players and their imports showed great class but I do feel that in the end, they were outgunned by the more internationally experienced and generally more consistent imports of Foton and Petron. They still however managed to secure the bronze medal, but not without a tough fight from RC Cola who also took the match to a 5th set. It was a very tight fifth set and while F2 Logistics had the upper had for most of the set and only won on their fourth match point, RC Cola actually had a match point of their own.

While the imports made an unmistakable and tremendous impact in the league, it was very interesting that a lot of the individual awards were given to local players. The award for 1st and 2nd best open spiker were given to Stephanie Niemer and Ariel Usher respectively. But every other award went to local players. Aby Marano was best middle blocker, Maika Ortiz was 2nd best middle blocker, Jovelyn Gonzaga was best opposite spiker, Kim Fajardo was best setter, Dawn Macandili was best libero, and Jaja Santiago was MVP. Amazing that Aby, Kim, Dawn and Jovelyn all took home the same awards that they won in the previous All-Filipino league. While Jaja Santiago continues to get so much bettter that it must be scary for her opponents to face her - she is now starting to score points even as an outside hitter and as an opposite hitter - I actually thought that the MVP award would go to Stephanie Niemer, who had more aces than anyone else, a lot of excellent receptions and digs, and a good number of blocks. Still, Jaja is now truly becoming one of the best and most unstoppable players in the country.

Beyond her though, it is amazing to see that the level of Philippine volleyball has risen up quite markedly over the last couple of years. It has been very beneficial to our players to have gotten to regularly play with, and against, very seasoned international players and even get trained and mentored by experienced international coaches. While on average we still lack the height to do well at the global level and we still don't have the same speed and efficiency as other Asian teams, we are on the right path and it will be interesting to see how we will compete internationally in the future.

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