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Petron raring to defend PSL crown

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It is expected to be an uphill climb for Petron when it defends the 2016 Philippine Superliga (PSL) All-Filipino Conference crown starting Saturday at the FilOil Flying V Center in San Juan.

After losing the core of Aby Maraño, Rachel Anne Daquis, Dindin Manabat and Fille Cayetano, the Tri-Activ Spikers will be marching with a new crew that features veteran Aiza Pontillas, Bang Pineda and CJ Rosario, who was tabbed as second overall pick in the recent PSL Annual Rookie Draft.

But it will not be a cakewalk for them this time as the rest of the field also beefed up their respective rosters in this prestigious women’s inter-club volleyball tournament bankrolled by Asics, Grand Sports, Mikasa, Mueller, Senoh and supported by Focus Athletics, KLab Cyscorpions, Islandrose.net, LGR and Petron with TV5 as official broadcast partner.

Foton, which foiled Petron’s bid for a three-peat, added more offensive muscle when it recruited EJ Laure and Cherry Rondina from UST and Carol Cerveza from La Salle while retaining the core of Jaja Santiago, Angeli Araneta and Patty Orendain.

F2 Logistics also bolstered its roster as it acquired Kim Fajardo, Mika Reyes, Ara Galang and the entire core of reigning UAAP champion La Salle to team up with former Lady Spikers Marano, Cha Cruz and Paneng Mercado.

Three time champion RC Cola-Army remains formidable as it retained the core of Honey Royse Tubino, Nene Bautista, Tina Salak and Daquis, who emerged as Most Valuable Player during Petron’s championship run in the All-Filipino conference last year.

“Mukhang mahihirapan na kaming makaulit. Lahat ng teams malaki ang improvement,” said Petron coach George Pascua, who made history by becoming the first coach to lead his team to a clean 13-0 sweep last year.

Pascua added that although they lost some key players, the addition of Pontillas, Pineda and Rosario as well as the return of Ces Molina, Maica Morada, Mayette Zapanta, Mina Aganon and Jen Reyes will offset their losses.

“I like my team. We’re now more aggressive because we got a little younger,” he said during the press launch yesterday graced by PSL chairman Philip Ella Juico and Peter Bratschi of Eventcourt, the co-organizer of the FIVB World Women’s Club Championship here in Manila in October.

Petron will open its campaign against Foton at 4 p.m. while F2 Logistics will face Cignal at 2 p.m. following a colorful opening ceremony.

Also expected to make an impact are Cignal, Standard Insurance-Navy, Generika and Amy’s Kitchen.

The HD Spikers will parade the core of NCAA champion College of Saint Benilde in Djanel Cheng, Jeanette Panaga and Janine Navarro while the Corvettes will have Pau Soriano and Norie Jane Diaz as cornerstones.