When the Philippine Superliga (PSL) Grand Prix 2019 opened, all eyes were on bitter rivals Petron and F2 Logistics. Arguably two of the most powerful clubs in the country today, the Blaze Spikers and the Cargo Movers have made history individually and together both in PSL and in the Philippine volleyball.
For one, Petron is the winningest team in PSL with five league titles. Following its 14-0 elimination round sweep in the ongoing conference, it is also the first team to ever sweep the preliminary round with an unbeaten record three times (2015, 2018 and 2019).
F2 Logistics, meanwhile, prides itself with its star-studded lineup as it has the most awarded player in PSL in Aby Marano, a grand slam best setter in Kim Fajardo, and the first ever MVP libero in Dawn Macandili.
But more than their individual success, it was their combined record of meeting in the Finals for five straight indoor conferences that really inked their names in the history books of the league.
And now, two months later, all eyes remained on the defending champs Petron and silver medalists F2 Logistics as they gear up for a sixth straight championship duel.
Stephanie Niemer with a back row kill!
— ESPN5 (@Sports5PH) March 28, 2019
Arriving at the semifinals with a clean slate, the Blaze Spikers are eyeing a return to the Finals to defend their title when they lock horns with Cignal.
Shaq delos Santos and his wards left no stones unturned in their title defense bid: acquiring defensive gem Denden Lazaro, retaining its stacked local lineup, and, most importantly, tapping two scoring machines in Steph Niemer and Kath Bell.
The tandem of Niemer and Bell was easily the most lethal this conference, arguably in the PSL history. Niemer averages 19.47 points per match on a 42.64 percent success rate in spikes this conference, while Bell pours 19.07 hits every game with a conference-high 47.17 percent success rate in spikes.
But while either spikers could score 30 markers or more in a single game, there was no urgency for them to do so as the local support for Petron is also steady. The result: they cruised through the tourney, winning 45-out-of-46 sets played in dominant fashion for a 15-game win streak.
MJ Perez combines superb attack and powerful form! ✔
— ESPN5 (@Sports5PH) April 2, 2019
Taking the long route for their sixth straight semis stint, the Cargo Movers are also shooting for another Finals appearance when they take on PLDT.
Unlike the seamless journey of Petron, the Ramil de Jesus-mentored squad’s campaign have had its fair share of ups and downs. Cha Cruz-Behag and Kim Dy – later replaced by Cindy Imbo – were not healthy enough to help the team, while its prized playmaker Fajardo sustained a finger injury that prompted her to miss most of their games.
Import Lindsay Stalzer arrived late, leaving F2 Logistics with one import in Becky Perry in during first two assignments. Needing steadier outputs, the Cargo Movers then withdrew Perry and signed MJ Perez anew to boost their bid.
It was setbacks after setbacks, but with Stalzer (19.14 hits per match) and Perez (20.80 points per game) doing the damage, they still managed to advance to the next stage after surviving a scare from Foton in the quarterfinals.
Will it be another Petron-F2 Logistics battle for the crown, or will Cignal and PLDT put an end to the saga?
Semifinals action starts on April 23.
Stats from: https://vballdb.000webhostapp.com/
(Image from Facebook/Philippine Superliga)