Count National University-Archipelago Builders and Cignal HD as heavy favorites to rule the 2023 Spikers’ Turf Open Conference that gets going this Sunday at the Paco Arena.
This was the consensus among the team representatives during the weekly Philippine Sportswriters Association Forum at the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex.
VNS Volleyball Club head coach Ralph Ocampo believes the system practiced by both squads simply stands out.
“The system in NU is great that you can put any player in there and still be good as well as Cignal,” Ocampo said.
D’Navigators Iloilo team coordinator Francis Babon also mentioned the Bulldogs and HD Spikers as teams to beat but with the University Athletic Association of the Philippines and the National Collegiate Athletic Association going underway in February, the complexion of the tournament could change.
“Based on the previous conference, we have Cignal and NU but we have to consider that we have the UAAP and the NCAA so it will be hard retaining the teams,” Babon said.
Both teams will be entering in their weakened forms since their last encounter.
Last year, NU swept Cignal in the Open Conference finals for its first title.
But with the UAAP men’s volleyball finally being played after getting canceled in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, NU won’t have the luxury of parading an entire team as it focuses on defending its UAAP crown.
Still, Bulldogs assistant coach Dong de la Cruz will use this opportunity to strengthen their young players and give them more exposure.
“There’s a lot of teams here so the competition will be hard. I don’t think our UAAP players won’t be able to play,” De la Cruz said.
“I think we will be the youngest team to compete here.”
The HD Spikers, meanwhile, won’t have middle blocker Rex Intal, setter Owen Suarez and wing hitter Edward Camposano on the team.
Cignal head coach Dexter Clamor admitted while he would have wanted to beat the Bulldogs at full strength, he vows to do whatever he can to make sure the trust and support of the management are repaid.
“It’s not okay for us that the UAAP players won’t be playing because we really want to bounce back. For this year, we want to reclaim the championship,” said Clamor, whose squad won three titles.
The leadership of the Spikers’ Turf believes the sport’s popularity remains at an all-time high.
“It’s really a blessing that we’re getting more teams interested in joining the Spikers’ Turf. We’re growing and this is a good sign. It just shows everybody that there really is interest not only in women’s volley but also in the men’s side.” said Ricky Palou, president of the organizing Sports Vision.
Gamedays are on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays featuring two matches at 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.