A STRONG field of former Olympians and national team players will be fielded by the competing teams against Foton Pilipinas when the AVC Asian Women’s Club Championship fires off on Saturday at the Alonte Sports Arena in Binan City.
Yuan Xinyue, a 19-year-old middle blocker who won the gold medal in the recent Rio de Janeiro Olympics, will be bannering Ba’yi Shenzheng of China together with Lin Yanhan, the open spiker who was named as Most Valuable Player when the country hosted the Asian U23 Women’s Championship last year.
Not to be outdone, the NEC Red Rockets of Japan will also parade an Olympian in middle blocker Haruyo Shimamura together with Sarina Koga, the Best Scorer and MVP when Japan won the gold medal in the Asian Youth Girls Championship in 2012.
Also tipped as a force is the reigning Asian champion Bangkok Glass of Thailand, making this tournament organized by the Larong Volleyball ng Pilipinas, Inc., Philippine Superliga and the Binan City government headed by Rep. Len Alonte-Naguiat and Mayor Arman Dimaguila a tough event.
TV5 and SMMTV-Thailand are the official television partners, with Crimson Hotel serving as the official hotel for the participating teams.
Also backing the event are SMM Sports, Nike, Senoh, Asics, Mikasa, Foton, BMW and Price Waterhouse Cooper.
The Thais will be led by seasoned national team campaigners Pleumjit Thinkaow, Wanida Kotruang and Wilavan Apinyapong as well as young guns Pornpun Guedpard and Sutadta Chuewulim.
Foton Pilipinas will be led by American imports Ariel Usher and Lindsay Stalzer with guest players Aby Marano of F2 Logistics, Jen Reyes of Petron and Jovelyn Gonzaga of RC Cola-Army adding some force to the team.
They will be supported by mainstays Jaja Santiago, Rhea Dimaculangan, Maika Ortiz, Patty Orendain, EJ Laure, Angeli Araneta, Bia General, Ivy Perez and Cherry Rondina with Italian Fabio Menta as head coach.
Pocari Sweat of Hongkong and Thongtin Lienvietpost Bank of Vietnam will be the Tornadoes’ first two assignments in the group stages.
But things are expected to get rocky from there as Foton Pilipinas will be stacked against either the NEC Red Rockets of Japan or the Altay VC of Kazakhstan, which will parade three imports in Russian Olga Biryukova, Bulgarian Vanya Varbanova and Cuban Yunieska Robles Batista.
“It’s a very dangerous field,” said Menta, who guided the national team of Cook Islands last year. “The job starts after the group stages when we play either Japan or Kazakhstan. It’s either we play our best or we lose. We need half a luck and half a miracle to overcome these tough teams.”
“But we are working very hard. We want to play the game of our lives when we face these elite Asian teams.”
Also seeing action are Jakarta Elektrik PLN of Indonesia, 4.25 Sports Club of North Korea, T. Grand of Chinese Taipei, Sarmayeh Bank and Malaysia, which is said to be bringing in its national side.