BINAN CITY – Foton Pilipinas of the Philippines overcame a jittery start to crush Kwai Tsing of Hongkong, 25-20, 25-14, 25-10, in the opening salvo of the 2016 AVC Asian Women’s Club Championship Saturday at the Alonte Sports Arena here.
Jaja Santiago delivered the firepower while Jovelyn Gonzaga and Aby Marano supplied the veteran leadership for the Tornadoes, who were obviously still struggling for form in this continental battle organized by the Philippine Superliga, Larong Volleyball ng Pilipinas, Inc., and the city government of Binan.
Santiago had an impressive all-around performance, notching seven kills, four blocks and an ace to finish with 12 points while Gonzaga and Marano had 11 and eight hits, respectively, in this match that also has SMM Sport, Nike, Senoh, Asics, Mikasa, Foton, BMW, Rexona, PLDT, and Price Waterhouse Cooper as sponsors with Crimson Hotel as official residence and TV5 and SMMTV of Thailand as television partners.
Also barging in the win column was Taichung Bank of Chinese Taipei, which notched a 25-15, 25-22, 25-21 victory over Malaysia in the opening match.
After a rusty start that put it behind by four entering the first technical timeout, 4-8, Foton Pilipinas found its rhythm as Gonzaga and Marano started to assert the experience they earned from the previous Southeast Asian Games and Asian Club tournament.
A two-time SEA Games campaigner, Gonzaga delivered three consecutive points to turn a 12-13 disadvantage into a 15-13 edge in the first set that crushed the morale of the younger, shorter Hongkong stars.
Then, Marano and Santiago stood their ground on the defensive end, helping the Tornadoes erect a 21-12 edge in the second set that completely turned the match into a lopsided affair.
“We were shaky at first,” said Gonzaga, who skippered the team that saw action in the previous SEA Games in Singapore. “But in the latter part, we got our game back and we pressured them to commit some errors. It was a good game.”
Despite the victory, Foton Pilipinas coach Fabio Menta admitted that the squad remains a work in progress as Gonzaga and Santiago failed to join the team in a tough competition in Bangkok last week.
He said the team has been together for only three weeks and guest players Gonzaga, Marano and Jen Reyes as well as imports Lindsay Stalzer and Ariel Usher have yet to full grasp his system.
Stalzer had seven hits while Usher had three in limited minutes.
“We’re still a work in progress. We’re still far from perfect,” said Menta, who had the luxury of pulling out his imports in the latter part of the second set after realizing that the locals can take care of business.
“I want the team to play a different level of volleyball. But considering that the team only had worked together for only 20 days and 18 days under a new coach, it’s been great. My grade to the team based on how they performed will not be too high; I’m going to give it seven and a half.”
Menta added that he expected the early struggle as the team has yet to find its killer form.
“We didn’t play good volleyball in the first half of the first set,” he said. “Then, we found our discipline on the court and our blocking got better. Hongkong is a very good fighting team. The only advantage was our height and we used it to the fullest.”
Skipper Man Lee Cheung led the way with seven points for Hong Kong, which will take a rest as Foton Pilipinas squares off with Thongtin Lienvietpost Bank of Vietnam Sunday at 2 pm.