2023 PVL All-Filipino Conference Preview
MANILA, Philippines — Six of the nine Premier Volleyball League club teams opted to hire new coaches during the offseason as they seek a fresh start in the 2023 All-Filipino Conference starting on Saturday at Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Unlike the past seasons when teams went through multiple signings, the PVL clubs focused on changing their respective systems and cultures by bringing in new coaches than overhauling their roster.
Most of the squads kept their core except for Chery Tiggo, which lost sought-after spiker Dindin Santiago-Manabat, who signed with the young Akari team and star hitter Myla Pablo transferring to F2 Logistics after winning a championship with Petro Gazz in the Reinforced Conference last December.
The preseason free agency was all about coaches finding their new home, except for Creamline, Akari, and Cignal, who retained their respective coaching staff.
Here’s a look at the nine participating teams before the 2023 season opens on Saturday with Creamline starting its title-retention bid against rival Petro Gazz at 6 p.m., right after the Akari-Choco Mucho clash at 4 p.m.
F2 Logistics Cargo Movers
Head coach: Regine Diego
Key losses: Tin Tiamzon, Dzi Gervacio, Des Clemente, Chloe Cortez, Alex Cabanos, Rem Cailing
Key additions: Myla Pablo, Chinnie Arroyo, Cha Cruz-Behag (returning)
2022 Season: Open (6th), Invitationals (Did not participate), Reinforced (5th)
After an underwhelming season last year, F2 Logistics signed decorated high school coach Regine Diego to call the shots and replace Ramil de Jesus, who chose his former La Salle player as his replacement.
The Cargo Movers, who missed the semifinals last season, also beefed up their line-up by adding champion spiker Myla Pablo from Petro Gazz, young hitter Chinnie Arroyo from National University, and Cha Cruz-Behag returning to action for the first time since 2018.
With Diego ushering in a new era for F2 Logistics, she is not making a “real big change” on her team composed of Kianna Dy, Ara Galang, Majoy Baron, Aby Marano, Ivy Lacsina, Kim Fajardo, and Dawn Macandili. But she is putting a premium on their connection.
The former Nazareth School champion coach is tempering her expectations in her first professional stint but as the rose among the thorns, she hopes “a woman can be the last man standing” this PVL season.
“All my team or our team can do is to do our best every game, and try to improve every day, and then let’s see,” Diego said.
Head coach: Jorge Souza de Brito
Key losses: Bingle Landicho, Gen Casugod,
Key additions: Dindin Santiago-Manabat, Bang Pineda, Eli Soyud, Camille Victoria
2022 Season: Reinforced (8th)
Akari caught the biggest fish in free agency as Manabat decided to start a new chapter in her storied career by leading a young squad.
The Chargers may have finished eighth in their first professional season but they made waves with Olympian import Prisilla Rivera leading the new team to three wins out of eight matches, including her record-setting 44 points against Choco Mucho in five sets and a four-set stunner that shattered F2 Logistics’ semifinal bid.
Aside from Manabat, Akari also signed champion libero Pineda from Petro Gazz, veteran spiker Eli Soyud from PLDT, and Camille Victoria opting to turn pro to join holdovers Trisha Genesis, Erika Raagas, Lycha Ebon, Michelle Cobb, Jaja Maraguinot, and Dani Ravena as well as veteran spiker Janine Marciano.
“We have four good guys to help us to get better. These additional players are really important. So that’s key positions. We have two opposites coming inside, Dindin and Eli. A libero who helps a lot, you as a champion. We are really thankful we have options for good players. Bang is coming together with us. From UST we have Victoria. She’s good also,” said Akari coach Jorge Souza de Brito.
“I think we are stronger than the last season. But also I’m not that surprised anymore so I think the same way we respect them [other teams], they are respecting us. It will be really hard to play against them.”
Choco Mucho Flying Titans
Head coach: Dante Alinsunurin
Key losses: Pauline Gaston, Shannen Palec, coach Oliver Almadro
Key addition: Dante Alinsunurin
2022 Season: Open (4th), Invitationals (7th), Reinforced (7th)
Dante Alinsunurin is taking his act to the PVL and he hopes he can bring his success from men’s volleyball — multiple championships with National University and the 2019 Southeast Asian Games silver medal — to the women’s league.
Alinsunurin was pleased with the team’s adjustments so far under his new system after inheriting a program and set of players under Oliver Almadro for the past four years.
Choco Mucho didn’t sign any player, making the decorated men’s coach its biggest signing. But Alinsunurin is not rushing things as he wants to establish his system to the Flying Titans first despite having a talent-rich roster composed of Kat Tolentino, Bea De Leon, Cherry Nunag, Maddie Madayag, Des Cheng, Isa Molde, Deanna Wong, Jem Ferrer, and Denden Lazaro-Revilla
As the Flying Titans have yet to reach the Finals since they joined the league in 2019 with fourth place as their best finish in the past two Open Conferences, De Leon is confident that they can finally get over the hump with Alinsunurin calling the shots.
“I think, for this conference, we’re definitely looking at a podium finish. And with our new coach, we’re confident that we can reach our [target] destination” said the Choco Mucho team captain.
Petro Gazz Angels
Head coach: Oliver Almadro
Key losses: Myla Pablo, Bang Pineda, Seth Rodriguez, coach Rald Ricafort
Key additions: Dzi Gervacio, Heather Guino-o, Jellie Tempiatura, Des Clemente
2022 Season: Open (2nd), Invitationals (6th), Reinforced (1st)
Petro Gazz may have lost two of its starters from last season and head coach Rald Ricafort, who were all instrumental in its second straight Reinforced Conference championship.
But the Angels were able to fill in the void as they tapped Ateneo women’s volleyball tactician Oliver Almadro to take over the coaching reins after he resigned from Choco Mucho in the middle of the third conference last year because he wanted to focus on his college team.
Aside from a new coach, Petro Gazz also signed Dzi Gervacio, Heather Guino-o, Jellie Tempiatura, and Des Clemente to join the still-intact roster bannered by Grethcel Soltones, Nicole Tiamzon, Jonah Sabete, Aiza Maizo-Pontillas, setter Djanel Cheng, and middle blockers Rem Palma and MJ Phillips.
Team captain Chie Saet said that their team may have undergone major changes but they promised to leave everything on the floor this PVL season.
“We lose some but we also recruited new members. With our new coach and new system, we’re excited to play this conference and we will do our best,” said Saet in Filipino.
PLDT High Speed Hitters
Head coach: Rald Ricafort
Key losses: Heather Guino-o, Chinchin Basas, Eli Soyud, George Pascua
Key additions: Ysa Jimenez, Mich Morente
2022 Season: Open (5th), Invitationals (4th), Reinforced (6th)
After a successful first stint as PVL head coach by steering Petro Gazz to its second straight Reinforced Conference title last December, Rald Ricafort decided to take on a new challenge with PLDT.
The High Speed Hitters didn’t undergo a major roster revamp as they signed Ysa Jimenez and Mich Morente to plug in the hole after letting go of Heather Guino-o, Chinchin Basas, and Eli Soyud.
But Ricafort is still inheriting an intact line-up, composed of veteran setter Rhea Dimaculangan, Mika Reyes, Dell Palomata, Jules Samonte, and libero Kath Arado.
The youthful coach said his previous success doesn’t guarantee instant success for his new team. But he promises to light a fire under the High Speed Hitters to finally get over the hump this 2023 PVL season.
“As I mentioned to the team, there’s no magic trick or shortcut, we just have to bring that fire inside the [players]. And bring back their enjoyment in playing the sport we love,” he said. “Aside from the tactics and strategies, we just want to help these players to improve and take to the next level.”
Cignal HD Spikers
Head coach: Shaq Delos Santos
Key losses: Angeli Araneta, Marist Layug, Ayel Estranero, Arianne Layug, Klarisa Abriam, Joy Dacoron
Key additions: Chinchin Basas, Gyzelle Sy, Gen Casugod, Graze Bombita (returning)
2022 Season: Open (3rd), Invitationals (3rd), Reinforced (2nd)
Coming off a banner year including a breakthrough Finals appearance in the Reinforced Conference, Cignal has nothing in mind but the PVL championship as coach Shaq Delos Santos signed new players, who are familiar with his system.
After letting go of six players including Angeli Araneta, the HD Spikers recruited former Far Eastern University stalwarts Chinchin Basas, Gyzelle Sy, and Gen Casugod, who played under Delos Santos during their collegiate careers.
Delos Santos will be coaching a team composed of former Lady Tamaraws including Rachel Anne Daquis, Gel Cayuna, and Jerrili Malabanan, while Bombita is also making her return to the Cignal roster after suffering an ACL injury last year.
After getting swept by Petro Gazz in the Reinforced Conference Finals, Ces Molina promised that they won’t stop working until they win the championship.
“We’re very proud of our team because we made three podium finishes. Not every team can do that. I think we’ll do it step by step. We got bronze and silver. Maybe next time we’ll win the gold. We won’t stop playing and learning,” said Molina, who is one of the team’s holdovers along with Ria Meneses, Rose Doria, Chai Troncoso, and libero Jheck Dionela.
Army Lady Troopers
Head coach: Randy Fallorina
Key losses: Jovelyn Gonzaga (skip), Mich Morente, Ging Balse (injury), Jem Gutierrez (injury)
Key additions: N/A
2022 Season: Open (7th), Invitationals (5th), Reinforced (9th)
Army will be missing star spiker Jovelyn Gonzaga due to her commitment to the Philippine beach volleyball team’s upcoming campaign in the 32nd Southeast Asian Games in Cambodia and other key players as it parades new coach Randy Fallorina, who replaced KungFu Reyes.
Besides Gonzaga, the Lady Troopers lost Morente in free agency and will miss Ging Balse and Jem Gutierrez, who are nursing injuries.
Army had no addition to its line-up after losing four players including coach Reyes after an eight-year stint. But Fallorina believes familiarity will be their biggest weapon against other club teams.
“I think the team being together for so long is the best weapon that we have [for the PVL],” Fallorina said. “It will be their experience that we can use. But you can be sure that we will fight it out every game.”
Fallorina will be pinning his hopes on Honey Royse Tubino and Jeanette Villareal, who was converted from middle blocker to opposite spiker, as well as Ivy Perez, Aubrey Paran, and Angela Nunag in their bid to end a 13-game skid dating back to the Invitationals elimination round last year followed by a winless Reinforced Conference.
Chery Tiggo Crossovers
Head coach: Aaron Velez (returning)
Key losses: Dindin Santiago-Manabat
Key additions: Pauline Gaston, Seth Rodriguez, Bingle Landicho
2022 Season: Open (8th), Invitationals (8th), Reinforced (4th)
Chery Tiggo will begin life without Manabat after six years as Reinforced Conference Mylene Paat takes the lead for the Crossovers starting this season.
The Crossovers also underwent some major changes after Manabat transferred to the Chargers, signing Pauline Gaston, Seth Rodriguez, and Bingle Landicho to beef up their line-up.
Team Manager Aaron Velez was also reinstated as head coach after coach Clarence Aying Esteban needed to take a step back as a coaching staff member due to his busy schedule.
Determined to bounce back after failing to defend their title last year, Velez wants to show a more offensive Chery Tiggo team in his comeback with Paat leading the squad, also composed of EJ Laure, Cza Carandang, Jasmine Nabor, Alina Bicar, and Buding Duremdes.
“Last conference, our team was all about defense. We lacked offensive firepower. If we will be able to execute better offense, I think we will get better results,” said Velez. “It’s more of a challenge for the other players as they will have opportunities to build their own positions first and their names.”
Creamline Cool Smashers
Head coach: Sherwin Meneses
Key losses: Alyssa Valdez (early part of the season due to knee injury)
Key additions: N/A
2022 Season: Open (1st), Invitationals (1st), Reinforced (3rd)
All members of the Creamline Cool Smashers from last season remained intact but their biggest adjustment will be Alyssa Valdez’s absence in the early part of their title-retention bid as her recovery timeline from a right knee injury is still uncertain.
Creamline coach Sherwin Meneses hopes Valdez will be fit to play by the end of February but for now, he will be making the same adjustment during the AVC Cup and Asean Grand Prix last year when they missed the three-time PVL MVP due to dengue.
Michele Gumabao will be a starter, while two-time MVP Tots Carlos will play as an outside hitter with Jema Galanza. Setter Jia De Guzman will be the team captain, leading fellow starters Ced Domingo, Jeanette Panaga, and libero Kyla Atienza.
Meneses believes keeping the same roster will still be their biggest edge in their quest to win the franchise’s sixth PVL championship.
“[Keeping our players] is an advantage because our system and chemistry will be continuous. Our number one game plan really was to retain all the players,” said the two-time champion coach. “All the other teams really beefed up their rosters. But for us, we want to improve every game. If we will improve, we will get a higher chance to win. We hope to have a good season even if we’ll miss Alyssa in the first part.”
The brand new All-Filipino Conference opens this weekend with the pre-pandemic rituals like handshakes and change courts after sets back again for the first time since 2019.
The video challenge system will be implemented every game with the nine club teams clashing in a single round-robin in the elimination round. The Top 4 squads will advance to the semifinals and will play another round-robin.
The best two teams will play a best-of-three Finals series, while the No. 3 and No. 4 seeds will clash in a bronze series.
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