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Creamline, Petro renew rivalry

‘This will be a good match.’

Games today:
(Smart Araneta Coliseum)
4 p.m. — Akari vs Choco Mucho
6:30 p.m. — Creamline vs Petro Gazz

Creamline puts its title-extension bid in motion when it battles bitter rival Petro Gazz in the main feature of an explosive opening day double-header in the Premier Volleyball League All-Filipino Conference today at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

The Cool Smashers are in for a tough battle facing a team coming off a championship run in the Reinforced Conference two months ago in their 6:30 p.m. encounter.

Meanwhile, a beefed-up Akari crew crosses paths with Choco Mucho parading a new coach in the 4 p.m. curtain-raiser.

However, focus will be on the Creamline-Petro Gazz clash in a rematch of last season’s Open Conference Finals series.

The league renamed the season-opening tournament to the more appropriate All-Filipino Conference as it highlights local talents.

But unlike last year when the star-studded Cool Smashers dominated the Angels, the Sherwin Meneses-coached club will be missing a vital hitter and court leader in Alyssa Valdez.

The Creamline team captain is expected to sit out at least a month as she recuperates from a knee injury she sustained in the Reinforced Conference battle for third.

Meneses will rely on his other veterans in setter Jia Morado, Jema Galanza, reigning conference Most Valuable Player Tots Carlos, Ced Domingo, Michele Gumabao and libero Kyla Atienza in the absence of Valdez.

“Petro prepared very well and has top-caliber veterans. This will be a good match,” Meneses, whose squad remained intact despite the rest of the field’s offseason movements, said.

“We’ve faced each other in the finals before. Hopefully, we’ll get another win against them. We have to work hard for that.”

The Angels, on the other hand, will run on a new system with the arrival of head coach Oliver Almadro, who replaced PLDT mentor Rald Ricafort.

Petro Gazz released outside hitter Myla Pablo, Seth Rodriguez and libero Bang Pineda but added to its roster Dzi Gervacio, Lourdes Clemente, Heather Guino-o and defense specialist Jellie Tempiatura to join key holdovers Aiza Maizo-Pontillas, Jonah Sabete, Remy Palma, MJ Phillips, setter Djanel Cheng and Grethcel Soltones.

In the other pairing, former national men’s team coach Dante Alinsunurin debuts in his first women’s club assignment for the crowd-drawing Flying Titans.

“I’m excited about this season but at the same I know this is going to be a challenging tournament for us,” Alinsunurin, who replaced interim coach Edjet Mabbayad following the resignation of Almadro midway through the Reinforced Conference.

Other than letting go of Pauline Gaston, Choco Mucho is fielding an intact roster led by Kat Tolentino, Bea de Leon, Des Cheng, Isa Molde, setter Deanna Wong, libero Denden Lazaro-Revilla, Maika Ortiz and a healthier Maddie Madayag.

Now in its second season, expectations are high for Akari after making a recruitment coup in signing 6-foot-2 Dindin Santiago-Manabat, Eli Soyud, Pineda and Camille Victoria.

In their maiden campaign, the Chargers led by Dominican import Prisilla Rivera scored a five-set upset over the Flying Titans. But head coach Jorge Souza de Brito knows that it will take extra effort this time to make a repeat over Choco Mucho.

“We beat them with a different lineup in a different situation with foreign players. So, facing Choco Mucho will be really hard. (But) it’s a challenge that we like,” said the Brazilian mentor, who is also the women’s national team coach.

Janine Marciano, Trisha Genesis, Jho Maraguinot, playmaker Michelle Cobb, Erika Raagas and Dani Ravena are key holdovers, out to give Akari a better finish after landing at eighth spot in the previous conference.

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