PVL: 11 most anticipated players in the 2023 Invitational Conference
MANILA, Philippines — The Premier Volleyball League (PVL) had the busiest midseason as several collegiate stars decided to jump to the pros despite having remaining playing years and old faces finding new homes ahead of the Invitational Conference starting Tuesday at FilOil EcoOil Centre in San Juan City.
The likes of Faith Nisperos, Eya Laure, Jolina Dela Cruz, and Trisha Tubu decided to forgo their eligibility in the UAAP and turn professional, changing the landscape of Philippine volleyball.
Longtime Philippine beach volleyball team members Sisi Rondina and Bernadeth Pons also finally decided to return to indoor action, while the three new teams Foton, Farm Fresh, and Gerflor add more thrill to the competition, turning the upcoming Invitationals into the biggest PVL tournament yet with 11 squads.
Army may be skipping the tournament, which will have two foreign teams in the semifinal round, but its players have boosted the roster of other clubs.
Inquirer Sports has listed the players to watch out for in every local team in this PVL conference.
Faith Nisperos is out to spread her wings with the Akari Chargers in her rookie debut in the PVL Invitational Conference.
After emerging as one of the top collegiate players in the country in the past two UAAP seasons with the Ateneo Blue Eagles, Nisperos decided to take on a new challenge in the pros.
The 23-year-old outside spiker, who decided to forgo her two playing years with Ateneo, signed with the Chargers because of the franchise’s long-term promise for her career, her familiarity with her teammates, and coach Jorge Souza de Brito, who handled her in the national team.
The former Blue Eagles’ skipper is bringing her scoring prowess to Akari, which has yet to reach the semifinals in its first two PVL seasons. She won the 2nd Best Outside Hitter in UAAP Season 84, leading her team to a third-place finish.
In Nisperos’ final playing year in Season 85, Ateneo missed the Final Four for the first time since 2009 as it finished sixth with a 4-10 record. But she still emerged as one of the top five scorers with a total of 228 points built on 209 spikes, 14 blocks, and fives aces.
She also led Ateneo to a preseason championship when they ruled the 2022 V-League Collegiate Challenge, where she won the Conference and Finals MVP awards as well as the 1st Best Outside Spiker.
Akari, though, is not pressuring the 5-foot-11 spiker to lead them to a breakthrough semifinal appearance right away as it remains patient with its progress. But the management is thrilled with its future with the potential of Nisperos.
Jovelyn Gonzaga is back home and out to bring firepower and a veteran presence to the Cignal HD Spikers, who are seeking to return to the podium in Invitational Conference.
The 31-year-old opposite spiker, who skipped the All-Filipino Conference due to her commitment to the Philippine women’s beach volleyball team that missed the podium in the 32nd Southeast Asian Games in Cambodia, decided to return with her former club team after Army decided to take a break in the midseason.
Gonzaga has been part of Cignal from 2017 to 2020 but she played for the Army in the past PVL two professional seasons since she is a military personnel.
Her skill set and leadership will boost Cignal as previously the HD Spikers to the Philippine Superliga finals in 2019. Gonzaga also has an undying chemistry with her longtime teammate and bestfriend Rachel Anne Daquis.
Getting along with her team won’t also be a problem for the veteran player as she reunites with her former Philippine women’s volleyball team coach Shaq Delos Santos and teammate Ces Molina.
Besides Gonzaga, watch out for Vanie Gandler, who also beefed up the wing spiker rotation of Cignal, which missed the All-Filipino semifinals after being part of the podium in three conferences last year including a silver medal finish in the Reinforced Conference.
Chery Tiggo made the biggest move during the break as it signed and sealed the most sought-after collegiate player in Eya Laure.
The back-to-back UAAP top scorer out of University of Santo Tomas has decided to stay with the franchise in her first professional stint, following a brief campaign with the former Foton team in the 2019 Philippine Superliga Invitationals before the franchise moved to the PVL’s first professional season two years ago.
Although Chery Tiggo coach Aaron Velez is tempering his expectations from Laure and other new recruits Imee Hernandez and National University key players Cess Robles, Jennifer Nierva, and Joyme Cagande, he believes that the well-rounded spiker will boost the team through her attitude and leadership.
The 24-year-old Laure, who spent the last 12 years in UST from high school to college, vowed to bring all the love and learnings from the Tigresses when she enters the pro ranks.
Eya is also reuniting with her older sister EJ for the first time since playing together in UAAP Season 82, which was wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic, and teaming up with skipper Mylene Paat.
The younger Laure could be the missing piece for the Crossovers, who missed the semifinals of the 2023 All-Filipino Conference with a 4-4 record in the elimination round.
Chery Tiggo is seeking to reclaim the PVL crown after winning the maiden professional championship in Ilocos Norte two years ago behind the heroics of sisters Jaja Santiago and Dindin Santiago-Manabat.
Sisi Rondina is finally making her PVL debut with the Choco Mucho Flying Titans, who are hoping that she is their missing piece to return to the semifinals.
After spending the last three years as a full-time Philippine women’s beach volleyball team member, Rondina has decided to return to indoor action and boost Choco Mucho, teaming up with her former UAAP rivals Kat Tolentino, Bea De Leon, Maddie Madayag, and Deanna Wong, who led the Ateneo Blue Eagles in beating her and the Tigresses in the UAAP Season 81 Finals in 2019.
The high-flying 5-foot-6 Cebuana is also beefing up the outside spiker rotation of coach Dante Alinsunurin as she joins Des Cheng and Isa Molde.
The 26-year-old Rondina, who last saw action in club volleyball with Petron four years ago, won two bronze medals in the 2019 and 2021 Southeast Asian Games and also played tremendously in indoor. She had a historic final playing year in the UAAP, emerging as the Season 81 MVP and leading the UST to the finals alongside Eya Laure before settling for silver.
Choco Mucho needs firepower from Rondina after missing the semifinals for the past three PVL tournaments. In Alinsunurin’s first tournament with the team, the Flying Titans placed seventh in the All-Filipino Conference after only winning two of their eight matches.
Rondina is not promising anything yet as she continues to adjust from the sands back to the taraflex but expect her to show the same resilience and her hard working attitude when she finally makes her much-anticipated indoor comeback.
Bernadeth Pons also makes her much-anticipated comeback to indoor volleyball after playing as a full-time Philippine women’s beach volleyball player for the past three years.
And she is expected to be a big asset for the Creamline Cool Smashers’ title-retention bid this Invitationals as coach Sherwin Meneses believed his team can rely on her from both offense and defense.
The former Far Eastern University star last saw action in club volleyball in 2019 when she played for Petron in the Philippine Superliga and won a couple of titles. Until she and Rondina decided to take a break from indoor action and focus on the Philippine women’s beach volleyball team for the past three years, winning back-to-back bronze medals in the 2019 and 2021 SEA Asian Games.
The 5-foot-8 spiker also had a storied career in the UAAP not only in beach volleyball but also in indoor as she led the Far Eastern University Lady Tamaraws to a Finals return in UAAP Season 80 last 2018 but settled for runner-up after losing to the De La Salle Lady Spikers.
The rich Cool Smashers got richer with the 26-year-old Pons boosting their wing spiker rotation with three-time PVL MVPs Tots Carlos and Alyssa Valdez, Jema Galanza, and Michele Gumabao.
Pons also stabilizes the outside spiker position for Creamline, which ruled the All-Filipino Conference amid the absence of the injured Valdez, who is still working her way to 100 percent recovery from a right knee injury in December.
Jolina Dela Cruz
After helping La Salle regain its lost glory in her last playing year in the UAAP Season 85, Jolina Dela Cruz is sticking to the same system and tradition that coach Ramil De Jesus built for F2 Logistics, which is now handled by the latter’s protege Regine Diego.
The Cargo Movers, who are coming off their best PVL finish, bronze medal in the previous All-Filipino Conference, boosted their roster by signing Dela Cruz along with her teammate, Season 85 Finals MVP and Best Setter, Mars Alba as well as Best Opposite Spiker Jovelyn Fernandez from Far Eastern University.
The outside spiker from Bulacan, the runner-up to UAAP season MVP Angel Canino, will be a big addition to F2 Logistics after displaying an all-around game last season, where she ranked eighth in spiking, seventh in blocking, third in service, fifth in reception, and 11th in digs and won the 1st Best Outside Hitter award.
The 23-year-old Dela Cruz, who is rejoining the Cargo Movers after she played with the club when it was still playing in the defunct Philippine Superliga in 2019, will fortify the outside spiker position with Myla Pablo, Ara Galang, and Cha Cruz-Behag.
Besides Dela Cruz, watch out for Alba as she teams up with seasoned playmaker Kim Fajardo in making plays for other former La Salle stalwarts Kianna Dy, Aby Marano, and Majoy Baron as well as National University product Ivy Lacsina.
Trisha Tubu took a leap as a one-and-done player for Adamson Lady Falcons in the UAAP, joining the new team Farm Fresh with a special purpose.
After an impressive rookie year in the UAAP Season 85, expect the 22-year-old Tubu to continue to reach her full potential in the pro ranks as she turned out to be the Foxies’ biggest acquisition in their upcoming PVL debut.
And the young opposite spiker is out to give her all as she opted to forgo her remaining playing years for her ailing dad.
Tubu shone in her first and only season with coach Jerry Yee and fellow Lady Falcon Kate Santiago.
The Lady Falcons’ top gunner and Season 85 fifth-best scorer is expected to lead the young team, which is also composed of the core of two-time NCAA champion College of Saint Benilde bannered by Gayle Pascual as well as former Ateneo middle blockers Pia Ildefonso and Joan Narit.
Tubu showed her hard-hitting attacks and steady defense in the UAAP, being a vital piece in ending the Lady Falcons’ nine-year Final Four drought.
That’s what she can bring to the table in her first pro stint.
Shaya Adorador can finally come out of her shell as she will be at the forefront of Foton’s offense as the Tornadoes make their comeback in the volleyball scene after four years.
Adorador, one of the reliable outside spikers of Chery Tiggo, was shipped to sister team Foton together with setter Jasmine Nabor and other Crossovers.
The 25-year-old pro player has been proving that she can lead a team as long as she has an opportunity, emerging as one of the main gunners of the Philippine women’s volleyball team in the AVC Challenge Cup in Indonesia.
The University of the East product was also a key cog in Chery Tiggo’s maiden PVL title run in the 2021 PVL bubble, bringing that championship experience to the expansion team.
It will be a homecoming for Adorador as she started her club career with Foton in 2018 when it was still in the Philippine Superliga.
Alyssa Bertolano struggled in her second and final UAAP season with the University of the Philippines but she has a chance to reach her full potential in the next chapter of her career.
After an impressive rookie year with the Fighting Maroons in 2022, where she emerged as the top four Best Scorer of the league with 197 points and also No.4 in spiking, the 20-year-old opposite spiker struggled in her sophomore season only scoring a total of 109 points in Season 85 as UP lost 13 of its 14 games in coach Shaq Delos Santos’ first stint.
Bertolano decided to turn pro, leading the new Gerflor squad under seasoned coach Edgar Barroga and reinforcing with volleyball free agents who seek to prove their worth.
The young spiker could be one of the main gunners of the Defenders after showing flashes of her scoring prowess in her two-year stint with UP.
And she has a lot of time to keep improving her game, turning pro at age 20.
Expect MJ Phillips to give her all for the Petro Gazz Angels in her last PVL conference before flying to Korea.
Weeks after settling for a runner-up finish in the All-Filipino Conference, the 28-year-old made history as she became the first Filipino drafted in the Korean V-League with the Gwangju AI Peppers selecting her as the fifth pick in the first-ever 2023 KOVO Women’s Asian Quota.
The Filipino-American is expected to continue providing a strong presence in the frontline as she emerged as one of the two Best Middle Blockers in the past two conferences, where the Angels reached the Finals.
Petro Gazz kept its core with Phillips and Rem Palma manning the middle, Grethcel Soltones, Aiza Maizo-Pontillas, and Jonah Sabete providing offensive firepower, and Des Cheng running the plays as they are out to run it back and gun for a third straight PVL Finals appearance in the Invitationals.
Watch out for Phillips as she is out to give herself a fitting season exit in the PVL before her upcoming overseas stint.
Royse Tubino could be the missing piece for the PLDT High Speed Hitters to get over the hump.
The veteran presence and hard-hitting attacks of the 30-year-old outside hitter will fortify the offense of PLDT, which made the PVL All-Filipino Conference and last year’s PVL Invitationals semifinals but still fell short.
Tubino, who has been a key cog for Army for the past years before it decided to skip the midseason tournament, is set to bring her experience to the young High Speed Hitters as she joins fellow wing spikers Mean Mendrez, Mich Morente, and Jovy Prado.
The University of Perpetual Help product is also hungry for a win as she has yet to win in 21 games dating back to the elimination round of last year’s Invitational Conference, where Army last reached the semifinals.
Just like Gonzaga and other Lady Troopers, Tubino became a good addition to their new teams.