December 27, 2018
FOTON Tornadoes (L-R) Lindsay Stalzer, Ariel Usher, Bia General, Dindin Santiago-Manabat, Jaja Santiago and Rhea Dimaculangan rejoicing as they sweep off the Petron Tri-Activ Spikers in a 25-20, 25-20, 22-25, 25-17 slate.
As a team, the FOTON Tornadoes must have already celebrated December 2016’s most memorable Saturday night having bagged, once again, this year’s Philippine Super Liga Grand Prix championship crown last Saturday, December 10 at the PhilSports Arena, Pasig City.
In a way it was déjà vu, as they were up against the very same team contesting the title in 2015, the Petron Tri-Activ Spikers.
THE ROAD TO FINALS
Since the 2016 Grand Prix conference kicked off last October, FOTON’s performance was, in a word, stellar, ratcheting up 9 wins and just one loss, along the way demolishing the Cignal HD Spikers, Generika Lifesavers, RC Cola Army, Petron Tri-Activ Spikers and losing only to F2 Logistics Cargo Movers.
The uphill climb was made easier by the University of Santo Tomas’ veterans Maika Ortiz and Rhea Dimaculangan; NU Lady Bulldogs Ivy Perez and Bia General plus the Twin Towers, Jaja Santiago and Dindin Santiago-Manabat. Augmenting the Tornadoes lineup were American reinforcements Ariel Usher and 2015 PSL Grand Prix MVP, Lindsay Stalzer.
Behind it was the vast experience of 59-year-old professional coach Moro Branislav from Serbia, the same team trainer who headed the Philippine SuperLiga All Stars in the FIVB Women’s Club World Championship last October 2016.
The global expertise of Branislav led to various adjustments for the FOTON Tornadoes: one of the most evident being 6’5 Jaja Santiago’s conversion from middle blocker to opposite spiker, a move that took full advantage of her offensive flair, elevation, and adaptability.
Early in the season, on the road to an eventual 9-1 record before the semis, the FOTON Tornadoes demonstrated a levelled-up performance in the court which qualified them in the best-of-three finals showdown of the Grand Prix along with the Petron Tri-Activ Spikers.
It wasn’t all roses. Game 1 of the finals saw the Tornadoes fall short in the first 2 sets scoring 20-25, 21-25 in favour of the Tri-Activ Spikers. The setback served as an eye-opener for FOTON who immediately sorted out the nerves, leading to winning the three succeeding sets at 25-22, 25-17, 15-9.
“Honestly, we also noticed that we tend to be shaky in the first 2 sets. We need to get to the third set before we become totally fuelled. It’s crucial. We may have won Game 1 but we must not let this trouble happen in Game 2.” said the younger Santiago in a post game conversation.
Both teams travelled a rocky road before reaching the most-awaited finals series. After FOTON’s victory on Game 1, what was left was an end-or-extend scenario for the league.
True enough, however, the Tornadoes began Game 2 with their engines firing up all cylinders scoring 25-20, 25-20 in the first 2 sets. It was only during the third set when Petron’s import Stephanie Niemer took the team to its first win over the Tornadoes at 22-25.
It was a futile action.
Not long after, FOTON blazed the trail to victory with imports Usher and Stalzer utilizing their offensive club while Santiago took charge of the defense which led the team to rule over Petron ending this year’s Grand Prix with 25-17.
TOWER OF MVP POWER
Apart from the championship crown, walking tower Jaja Santiago was also hailed as the season’s Most Valuable Player. Individual recognitions were also awarded to Ariel Usher – Best Outside Spiker 2 and Maika Ortiz as Best Middle Blocker 2.
“The team deserves to win; these ladies worked really hard to keep the championship title. It’s literally a conference of blood and tears but they managed to step up, claim victory and make the FOTON Blue Army proud.” exclaimed Branislav.
The FOTON Tornadoes’ victory has earned the team the right to again, represent the Philippines in next year’s Asian Women’s Club Championship which will be held tentatively in Kazakhstan on May 23-31, 2017.
From a state in 2014 as the Philippine SuperLiga’s underdogs to back-to-back Grand Prix champions in the 2015 and 2016 leagues, the FOTON Tornadoes’ Cinderella story continues to prove that the team, despite being a young group, has what it takes to earn the right to be hailed as one of the best teams in today’s Philippine volleyball scene.