The recently concluded Philippine Superliga (PSL) All Filipino Conference 2018 was definitely one for the books.
As expected, the eight participating teams who vied for the highly-coveted title gave their all. But as usual, Petron and F2 Logistics still emerged as the last teams standing in the end.
The two champion squads went down different roads to arrive to the Finals, with the Blaze Spikers driving effortlessly and uncontested, and the Cargo Movers overcoming some roadblocks along the way.
At this point, a Petron-F2 Logistics match-up in the Finals is almost a tradition as it was the fifth straight time that these two elite squads squared off for the title.
Their five conference-long rivalry dated back during the All Filipino Conference 2017, which was won by Petron. Months later, it was F2 Logistics’ turn to celebrate as they copped the Grand Prix Conference that same year.
The script would go on with the Blaze Spikers and the Cargo Movers taking turns at the top. After the season-ending conference, the win-loss standings between them is 3-2, with Petron winning one more conference compared to F2 Logistics’ two.
There was no denying that a Petron-F2 Logistics game is always going to be exciting, what with the level of play that they have already established through the years. Decorated mentors, up and coming stars, grizzled veterans — these are only some of the reasons why, most of the time, they end up on top of the heap.
Fans of either teams, of course, are not complaining with this setup. But for the six other squads, this is starting to put more pressure on their shoulders.
For them, the saga is not only a tradition, but also a wake-up call.
It’s not as if the six other teams don’t have the right ingredients to take a championship. In fact, they do. Maybe, just maybe, it’s just that one or two ingredients are missing.
Cocolife will never run short of young talents with Gyra Barroga, Justine Tiu, Shannen Palec and Jinggay Bangad in their fold. Add a hard-hitting Kalei Mau and a Serbian coach in Moro Branislav, the Asset Managers can actually gave teams a run for their money.
Same goes for Sta. Lucia, which was bannered by youngsters Jho Maraguinot and Jeanette Villareal and veterans Rubie de Leon and Micmic Laborte.
But Cocolife and Sta. Lucia were not made for podium finishes this conference as they dwelled at the cellar, with the Asset Managers managing to win one game and the Lady Realtors ending their campaign hapless.
What they seem to lack are the system and the chemistry that the Blaze Spikers and the Cargo Movers have — things that they have already memorized like the back of their hands.
Unlike Petron and F2 Logistics, who have kept their lineups almost intact through the years, Cocolife and Sta. Lucia have undergone several revamps, which cost them their chemistry and on-court familiarity.
What Foton and Smart lack, meanwhile, is consistency.
Though both are champion squads, the Tornadoes and the Giga Hitters played inconsistently this conference, thus dooming their semifinals dreams.
Despite the absence of the Santiago sisters, Foton actually started strong, going for an unbeaten 4-0 start before falling apart as the tournament rolls.
Smart, meanwhile, played hot and cold. There are times when they bared the killer form they were known for, but most of the time they tend to look lost, as if they were playing in an unfamiliar territory.
Foton’s and Smart’s inconsistencies didn’t serve them well as the wins they racked up were not enough to give them a semifinals appearance.
If there is a team who could challenge Petron and F2 Logistics, it would either be Cignal or Generika, the two other semifinalist this conference.
Much like this year’s Finalists, Cignal and Generika have kept their rosters almost intact with only minor additions and subtractions. Most of the core of the Invitationals Cup 2017 championship squad still plays for the HD Spikers, while the Lifesavers’ lineup have already flourished since their return to the league in 2016.
Cignal gave F2 Logistics a hard time during the pool play round, while Generika was able to pull upsets against Petron this year. Still, at the end, they weren’t able to keep the confidence they need to advance to the championship round.
There seems to be no problem with their system and chemistry, nor do they lack in talent. What, then, was absent for Cignal and Generika? Answer: confidence.
Petron and F2 Logistics have this indescribable intimidating aura that could make any team wobble even off the court. But while the HD Spikers and the Lifesavers do not completely lack confidence, they couldn’t sustain it whenever facing either the Blaze Spikers or the Cargo Movers.
In short, unless Cocolife, Sta. Lucia, Foton, Smart, Cignal and Generika come up with something to break the trend, it would always be Petron and F2 Logistics in the Finals.
Unless they step their game, they would always only be contending for the bronze medal while the Blaze Spikers and Cargo Movers fight for the throne.
Now that the 2018 season is over, these six teams can now start building up for the next one as they hope to end the reign of Petron and F2 Logistics.
The next PSL conference starts two months away from now. That’s plenty of time for them to regroup and grow. The task may be difficult, but it’s not hard.
Because, after all, nothing lasts forever — not even a Queen’s reign.
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