Biggest PVL yet: New squads, teams to beat, Invitationals format
MANILA, Philippines — The Invitational Conference may be the shortest tournament of the Premier Volleyball League (PVL) season but this edition has become the biggest so far with three new teams joining the pro scene and other clubs making game-changing moves during the break.
The PVL had the busiest midseason as several collegiate stars like Faith Nisperos, Eya Laure, and Trisha Tubu leaped to the pros with expansion squads Farm Fresh, Foton, and Gerflor also making an 11-team field as they aim to provide opportunities for the women’s volleyball players and contribute to the growth of the sport.
Newest PVL teams
Farm Fresh instantly became the hottest new team as Tubu, Kate Santiago, and two other Adamson Lady Falcons decided to forgo their remaining playing years in the UAAP and join former coach Jerry Yee.
The Foxies, who are carrying a fresh milk product owned by sports patron Frank Lao, are also bannered by the core of two-time NCAA champion College of Saint Benilde led by Gayle Pascual as well as former Ateneo middle blockers Joan Narit and Pia Ildefonso.
“The management decided to join PVL because we’re already in the sports industry, and the big boss’ first love has always been volleyball. With this, we want to help and develop the players, give them the unforgettable experience the league has to offer,” Farm Fresh team manager Janica Lao told Inquirer Sports.
“Also, given that PVL has been one of the most notable leagues in the industry, we decided to have our very first debut as a team with them.”
The Foton Tornadoes, the predecessor of the Chery Tiggo Crossovers before the rebrand three years ago, are returning to the volleyball scene after four years as the United Asia Automotive Group Inc. (UAAGI) decided to field another PVL squad to provide more opportunities for the women’s volleyball players.
Foton is one of the pioneering teams of the defunct Philippine Superliga back in 2014 with two Grand Prix championships in 2015 and 2016.
“Since then, our supportive management has been an advocate of sports development aside from marketing,” said Foton team manager Aaron Velez, who also calls the shots for Chery Tiggo. “Our management decided to form another team to showcase also our other players’ potential and what they can offer on the playing court.”
Chery Tiggo, which made the biggest move by acquiring Eya Laure and four other UAAP stars, shipped its seven players to Foton with Shaya Adorador and Jasmine Nabor being named as co-captains for fellow former Crossovers Seth Rodriguez, May Luna, France Ronquillo, Bingle Landicho, and Jaila Atienza.
The Tornadoes will be coached by Brian Esquibel, who has been with the franchise since PSL. They also signed Army player Nene Bautista and free agents Bern Flora and Carly Hernandez as well as Babylove Barbon, Maji Mangulabnan and Sydney Niegos with reigning NCAA MVP Mary Rhose Dapol of University of Perpetual Help using a special guest license so she can still play in her collegiate league.
Meanwhile, the Gerflor Defenders have the same vision as they gave a second chance to free agents Mina Aganon, Justine Dorog, Fhen Emnas, Ivy Perez, Ranya Musa, Janine Navarro, Shannen Palec, Julia Angeles, Anne Esguerra, and Andrea Marzan.
The same goes for coach Edgar Barroga, who has been raring for his pro debut when an expansion team didn’t push through in 2021. He also signed with Sta. Lucia, which was part of the PVL bubble tournament, but took a leave of absence last year.
“Our main goal is to showcase not only the talents of our players but to serve as an inspiration to every student-athlete and former pros. We want to show that opportunities will always be there for as long as they work hard to reach their dreams and ambitions,” said Gerflor team manager Jordan Tolentino.
The Army Lady Troopers opted to skip the Invitationals due to the lack of players, who are currently in military training, but it will be the biggest tournament, surpassing the 10-team field from the 2021 Open Conference — the league’s pro debut —under a bubble environment in Bacarra, Ilocos Norte.
Creamline still team to beat
Despite the three newcomers and other club teams making big moves, the Creamline Cool Smashers remain the heavy favorites in the Invitational Conference wit Alyssa Valdez close to returning to action from a right knee injury that sidelined her for seven months and Bernadeth Pons playing for defending champions in her much-anticipated pro debut.
Creamline, which won the first Invitationals last year by beating KingWhale Taipei in a winner-take-all Final, also had a fruitful experience after ruling the All-Filipino Conference despite Valdez’s absence. Its core, led by three-time MVP Tots Carlos, Jia De Guzman, Jema Galanza, Michele Gumabao, Ced Domingo, and Kyla Atienza along with coach Sherwin Meneses, carried the flag in the 32nd Southeast Asian Games.
However, it will be a tougher title defense for the Cool Smashers as two guest teams are expected to join the round-robin semifinals after the pool phase between the 11 local teams.
All-Filipino runner-up Petro Gazz is expected to challenge Creamline as it kept the same roster bannered by middle blockers Rem Palma and Korean V-League bound MJ Phillips as well as national team players Aiza Maizo-Pontillas and Djanel Cheng, while Chery Tiggo made the biggest pre-conference move, landing Laure, Imee Hernandez, Jennifer Nierva, Cess Robles, and Joyme Cagande to reinforce with team captain Mylene Paat.
F2 Logistics, the bronze medalist of the previous tournament in coach Regine Diego’s debut, is also title contender as it beefed up its roster after signing the champion pair of Mars Alba and Jolina Dela Cruz from La Salle and UAAP Best Opposite Spiker Jov Fernandez from Far Eastern University, teaming up with Kianna Dy, Myla Pablo, Aby Marano, Kim Fajardo, and Dawn Macandili.
Other teams are also expected to force a tight race for the four semifinal berths with Choco Mucho bringing back Sisi Rondina to indoor volleyball after nearly four years, Cignal re-acquiring Jovelyn Gonzaga and signing Vanie Gandler, PLDT recruiting Army veteran spiker Royse Tubino, and Akari landing one of the most sought-after collegiate players, Faith Nisperos.
PVL Invitationals format
The league separated the 11 squads into two groups—the same format as the 2022 Open Conference—as it needs to shorten its calendar due to the country’s hosting of the Volleyball Nations League men’s leg from July 4 to 9. It has to finish the conference by July 30 before the Fiba World Cup 2023.
Defending champion Creamline headlined Pool A with Chery Tiggo, PLDT, Akari, and expansion team Gerflor, while Pool B will feature six teams bannered by Petro Gazz, F2 Logistics, Choco Mucho, Cignal, and two new squads Farm Fresh and Foton.
The top two teams in each pool will advance to the round-robin semifinals. The squads from Pool A need at least three wins to secure a semis berth and have to avoid three losses to prevent being relegated to the classification round.
In Pool B, the squads cannot afford to have four losses to survive, while the sixth-placed team in the group will automatically be ranked 13th in the tournament.
In the semifinals, the PVL will implement another single round-robin same as last year’s Invitationals and Reinforced Conference. Two foreign squads will join but the league has yet to name the clubs. The local teams from the same pool will carry over their head-to-head record from the pool phase to the semis.
The best two clubs of the semifinals will advance to the winner-take-all final on July 30 at PhilSports Arena, while the third and fourth-ranked teams will compete for the bronze medal. The eliminated squads of the group stage will be relegated to the classification round from fifth to 12th places.
Every set win will matter for the semifinalists. In case of a tie in the win-loss records, the league will apply the FIVB tiebreak rules, using the points and set ratio to determine the squad with an inferior quotient.
In the PVL Reinforced Conference last December, Creamline beat Chery Tiggo in five sets for their second win in three matches, tying Petro Gazz and Cignal but the Cool Smashers didn’t advance to the Finals as the latter two teams earned more points in the semis.
Creamline tests the mettle of the new-look Chery Tiggo to kick off the Invitationals’ triple header opener Tuesday next week FilOil EcoOil Centre in San Juan City.
Meanwhile, expansion team Farm Fresh makes its PVL debut on opening day, facing F2 Logistics at 1:30 p.m.
Cignal, which will feature the reunion of Jovelyn Gonzaga and Rachel Anne Daquis, is also seeing action in the triple header opener against Petro Gazz at 4 p.m.
The Pool Phase will be played every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday with a triple-header schedule until July 1 before shifting to quadruple-header game days from July 11 to 18 at PhilSports Arena in Pasig City.