I KID you not, these Tornadoes can only get stronger.
But I am not referring to natural tornadoes but the Foton Tornadoes, my favorite team in the Philippine Super Liga (PSL) and currently, they are now in Thailand for a one week tune up after being invited to join a tough club level tournament featuring 6 Asian teams, this is in preparation for the Asian Women’s Club Volleyball Championship starting at the Alonte Gym in Biñan, Laguna on September 3, a slot Foton gained by winning last year’s PSL Frand Prix.
The fact is, Foton just finished in second place at the recently-concluded PSL All-Filipino Conference, bowing down to F2 Logistics in a best of three series that reached Game 3, an exciting championship series that attracted a big crowd of volleyball fans to the Flying V Arena in San Juan, including me of course.
It could have gone either way as in Game 3, Foton took the first set but faltered when it mattered most in sets 3 and 4, I had short chat with F2 head coach Ramil de Jesus while waiting for the awarding ceremonies to begin and he said the turning point for him was when his girls took the second set and regained their confidence after losing set 1, on the other hand, losing coach Vilet Ponce de Leon saw the third set as the crucial one as the game was close going into the closing minutes of the game but her wards committed a service error that shifted momentum to F2.
The truth is that the Tornadoes made too many mistakes, a lot of them unforced errors particularly when serving, and Vilet agreed, there were just too many of those errors, ruining the team’s chance of accomplishing back to back title wins.
As I told former team manager Alvin Lu, who was asked by the team owner to focus on his core job on the corporate side, Alvin handles dealer development for Foton, and was replaced by former assistant coach Jose Mari Angulo, this year’s team is the strongest assembled so far in the team’s short history, rookie player Cherry Rondina and EJ Laure, both from UST are in the starting line-up already, while earlier additions like Maika Ortiz and Rhea Dimaculangan have proved to be steadying figures for the team that also features Jaja Santiago, Angeli Araneta, Patty Jane Orendain, Bia General, May Macatuno, and Ivy Perez.
After that Game 3 finals, together with other media guys in the PSL beat, I went to Hai kang in Greenhills for a post celebration and was seated with PSL chairman Philip Ella Juico who said it was as if Foton had won the championship as the venue overflowed with the team members, some with their families , the owners and their guests, employees composing the Blue Army of Foton’s supporters. Last year’s PSL Grand Prix MVP Lindsay Stalzer, who led Foton to its first championship, and new team mate for this year, Ariel Usher, were also present as they will reinforce the team in the Thailand tournament, together with guest players Aby Marano and Jen reyes though I heard that for the current tournament in Thailand, those who did not make it or were not included, were Jaja, Kara Acevedo, Carol cerveza, Danna Henson, and Shirley Salamagos, another guest player Jovelyn Gonmzaga also did not make it to Sisaket in Thailand.
The presence of Lindsay and Ariel is another reason why I say these Tornadoes can only get stronger, last year’s partner for Lindsay, Katie Messing, I heard from Juico has decided to stop playing and opted to look for a more regular employment, for those who have followed the PSL, I am sure they will agree that a Stalzer-Usher combination in the next Grand Prix , will be an even more explosive duo than Lindsay and Messing.
The bonding time that these girls will have in Thailand and followed by their stint in the Asian Club championship, can only make the team more cohesive and more experienced for the Grand Prix.
Then how about the fact that Jaja’s elder sister, Dindin Manabat-Santiago, who just gave birth last month, is officially a Foton Tornado already but I guess not in time for the Grand Prix as she has to take care of her baby first.
This was announced the following night after Game 3 in a press conference called by Foton management and can you imagine Jaja and Dindin playing together with the rest of the other Tornadoes, boy, that would be a sight to see and I will expect a more motivated Jaja playing as she has told me it is her dream to play along side her “ate”.
But then that presscon was not called just to announce Dindin’s joining the team but for an even bigger announcement that certainly took a lot of people, especially the people concerned, the coaching staff and the players, I knew about it earlier but respected the request not to talk about it, Foton has secured the services of Italian coach Fabio Menta to take over as head coach, certainly a bold but risky decision on the part of Foton management.
With his extensive international experience, Fabio can certainly help Foton move to another level and in that first meeting with us media guys, I liked the straight to the point answers he gave on what he sees and what he plans for the team, he says the team is already strong but they need to work on both the technical and tactical aspects, and when I asked him to be more specific, he explained that passing the ball quicker is a definite area for improvement, it has to be quicker as there is a need to cach up with that type of game in international competitions.
Fabio also talked about coming up with a distinctly Filipino way of playing saying there is that need to identify “our own soul and spirit as a team”, words that may seem new to the team members now but once they have understood it, will certainly help them in their development as individuals and as a team.
The only risk I see is how quickly Fabio can establish rapport with his players, how they will be able to relate to him as their new coach, and how quickly they will be able to overcome the emotional shock of that new development in the team, I engaged Vilet after the formal press con but she opted not to talk at that time, but as a professional, I am sure she will eventually understand and accept it, after all, there is nothing new in that come to think of it.
Now, can you understand why I am saying I am expecting stronger Tornadoes to come?