Baguio faces PetroGazz in Champions League opener

Mylene Paat of Chery Tiggo (Photo from Asian Volleyball Confederation / Eddy Phongphakthana)

LIPA CITY—Ranged against the country's best club teams, Baguio and California Precision Sports hope to make their presence felt in the Philippine National Volleyball Federation (PNVF) Champions League inaugurals on Saturday at the Aquamarine Recreational Center here.

The Lady Highlanders test the mettle of PetroGazz at 10 a.m., while the Antipolo City-based CPS goes up against F2 Logistics at 1:30 p.m.

Chery Tiggo and Tuguegarao Perlas Spikers cap a heavy three-match schedule to usher the federation's first national club league at 4 p.m.

Baguio City is here to compete as coach Yul Benosa wanted his ladies to prove that their team also belongs to the big league.

"Ang maliit ang nakaka-puwing. Ang underdog ay tunay na mga palaban. And we consider ourselves the dark horse of the tournament," said Benosa as the Lady Highlanders prepare for training on Friday after the team was cleared in the RT-PCR swab test.

Skipper Cherry Atuban, the Baguio City setter who along with outside hitter Ann Atuban had a taste of club competition in the 2016 V-League by also representing the summer capital, are raring to prove themselves against their idols and to guide their teammates who are playing for the first time in this level of play.

"Malaking bagay ito—participating this event (PNVF Champions League). Motivation po sa pagsali ay exposure din po ng mga bata at makaharap namin yung mga napapanood namin sa TV na ngayon ay may opportunity kaming makalaro sila," Atuban said.

"Ang advice ko sa kanila (rookies) na kapag nasa game na kami, dapat hindi sila mawala sa focus. Hindi sila biglang ma-starstruck, yung makita nila yung magagaling na players," the 26-year old added.

The Lady Highlanders have been training for two months for the competition after Benosa created a program for the team to become one solid fighting machine.

Regardless of the outcome of the week-long tournament, Atuban wants to give pride to Baguio City.

"Siguro ‘yung mate-treasure namin after this event is whatever the result is, the experiences and gratefulness na na-invite kami, ‘yung nag-participate ang city," Atuban said.

The Angels, meanwhile, will field an intact roster with national team middle blocker Ria Meneses and outside spiker Ces Molina leading the charge in the event that has Rebisco, Top Speed, 1Pacman Partylist, Pitmaster Foundation Inc., Philippine Sports Commission and Philippine Olympic Committee as platinum sponsors, F2 Logistics, PLDT, MVP Sports Foundation, Asics and Mikasa as gold sponsors, and BCDA, Philippine Red Cross, Lipa LGU, Emerald PVC Pipes and Davies Paints as silver sponsors, with PNVF godfather, Taguig Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano, chairman of the Champions League, giving his full support.

California, the league's youngest team, is also looking forward to gain experience playing against a talented club like the Cargo Movers.

Playing for the first time since March 2020, F2 Logistics has a solid core in national team mainstays Kalei Mau, Aby Maraño, Kim Kianna Dy, Majoy Baron and Iris Tolenada, the Fil-Am playmaker who is the club's most recent addition.

The Crossovers, who are coming off a Premier Volleyball League championship last August, will miss the services of Jaja Santiago, who is playing in Japan V.League, and Shaya Adorador, who is recovering from a knee injury.

But still, Chery Tiggo is tipped to contend for a sweep of this year's club championship at stake with Dindin Santiago-Manabat spearheading to fill the void left by her younger sister along with her fellow national team standout Mylene Paat and setter Jasmine Nabor.

"All of us are excited to play, showcase our talents and hardwork again. We are aiming to be more diverse and cohesive in executing our systems for Champions League," coach Aaron Velez said. "We just need to be extra mindful, compose at all times, efficient from start to end and continue to strive for excellence.”

The Perlas Spikers, on the other hand, hope to perform well with main hitters Nicole Tiamzon, Michelle Morente and new acquisition Jules Samonte.