May 24, 2024

PVL preview: PLDT dials it up for podium finish

PVL preview: PLDT dials it up for podium finish
Art by Mitzi Solano/One Sports

It's game time for the PLDT High Speed Hitters.

After a fifth place finish in the 2023 PVL Second All-Filipino Conference, the High Speed Hitters just got a whole lot stronger with the addition of veterans Kim Kianna Dy, Majoy Baron, and Kim Fajardo. At the same time, they're building for the future with Shiela Kiseo and Kiesha Bedonia.

They just happen to be the right pieces as Erika Santos, Rhea Dimaculangan, and Mika Reyes find time to recover during the offseason. Don't forget there's still Jovy Prado healing up from her ACL injury.

No preseason tournament for PLDT, but the squad found plenty of ways to warm up with quality tune-ups against the NU Lady Bulldogs, back-to-back games against the FEU Lady Tamaraws, as well as a match against the Arellano Lady Chiefs.

  

Will this be enough to finally step onto the podium?

Coach: Rald Ricafort

Departures: Anj Legacion, Mean Mendrez, Michelle Morente, Royse Tubino, Lut Malaluan

Acquisitions: Kim Kianna Dy, Kim Fajardo, Majoy Baron, Shiela Kiseo, Kiesha Bedonia

AFC lineup

  • Outside hitters: Savannah Davison, Fiola Ceballos, Shiela Kiseo, Kiesha Bedonia
  • Opposite spikers: Erika Santos, Kim Kianna Dy, Jules Samonte
  • Middle blockers: Dell Palomata, Jessey de Leon, Rachel Austero, Majoy Baron
  • Setters: Rhea Dimaculangan, Kim Fajardo
  • Liberos: Kath Arado, Iza Viray

Previous AFC record: 7-4 (5th)

How do you contain Savannah Davison? PLDT's Fil-Canadian recruit from last conference was the top scorer of the preliminaries, crossing the 200-point mark with 202 markers. She was also the seventh best spiker with a 32.28% success rate and the seventh best receiver.

 

On the other hand, if you focus on Savi, you get killed by everyone else. Dell Palomata was the fifth best blocker of the preliminaries, while playmaker Rhea Dimaculangan was the seventh best server and setter in the league.

And new captain Kath Arado? She was the top digger of the preliminaries.

  

As a whole, PLDT was extremely solid as a team. They ranked second in the preliminaries in blocking with 87 kill blocks, second in service with 57 aces, and second in digs just next to the F2 Logistics Cargo Movers. They were also the third best spiking team with a 32.22% success rate.

Can they repeat this feat with the departure of Royse Tubino, Mean Mendrez, and Michelle Morente?

She's the captain now

Kath Arado is the top cat of the squad, as she takes over the captaincy in lieu of Mika Reyes, who is recuperating from a right shoulder operation.

It's a daunting task, but the veteran libero finds leading to the team to be as easy as receiving a spike and sending it perfectly to her setter.

"'Yung pressure to handle the team, wala. Veterans kasi mga kasama ko, so pinapadali nila 'yung trabaho ko as a captain," the University of the East product shared.

"Sobrang gaan nila kasama, lalo na 'yung mga pumasok sa amin."

[ALSO READ: PVL: Kath Arado shares why it's easy to embrace captain role for PLDT

It also helps that Reyes continues to give advice and support at the sidelines.

  

Coach's corner

The entry of the three veteran F2 Logistics Cargo Movers was actually perfect timing.

Opposite spiker Erika Santos suffered injuries in their last two games in the previous conference and was only able to get clearance to train in January. When Kim Kianna Dy, who was also finally got back on the court for drills last month, gets back to 100%, it's going to be a deadly combo.

Middle blocker Mika Reyes is out of the conference due to a shoulder surgery, so Majoy Baron would easily fill up the spot.

Rhea Dimaculangan sat out the last game of the 2023 PVL Second All-Filipino Conference due to a finger fracture. She's getting there, but she's not 100%. Kim Fajardo would be just fine filling in.

"Nagkataon din in a way swak sa positions," coach Rald Ricafort told One Sports after practice.

PLDT signed up the three Cargo Movers precisely because of their winning tradition, their skills, and experience in high-pressure games. But coach Ricafort shared how he was particularly impressed by their will and mindset.

"Nabanggit 'yung gigil na bumawi," he recounted. "Malaking tulong sa amin, extra push sa team na may gustong mag-perform tulad sa glory days nila sa F2."

It also helped that top scorer Savannah Davison was getting the hang of the pressure and the system of PLDT. The Fil-Canadian was also going to stay for at least two more years.

Maybe they could get into the semifinals this time, after falling so so short in the last conference.

"Sayang pero konting-konti na lang. Hopefully, makatulong 'yung mga bago," Ricafort said.

What they said

PLDT found fresh blood in FEU Lady Tamaraws Shiela Kiseo and Kiesha Bedonia.

"Sobrang nakaka-overwhelm din nung una, napapanood ko lang sila dati. 'Di ko talaga inexpect, sadyang dumatin na God's plan lang po talaga," Kiseo shared to reporters during the PVL Media Day.

Kiseo, will be playing as an outside hitter and a service specialist, was particularly impressed by the High Speed Hitters' down-to-earth personality. She even received shoes from Baron.

"Sobrang humble nila, 'di momafi-feel na may pangalan sila," Kiseo remarked. "'Yung na-experience na kaibahan, 'yung maturity ng bawat isa, 'yun din yung dinedevelop namin."

  

Meanwhile, outside hitter Kiesha Bedonia is grateful for the chance to turn pro while continuing her studies.

"Si coach Manolo, sabi niya, 'Pagbutihan mo sa pro.' 'Yung training, seryosohin ko talaga. Walang tamad-tamad sa pro," Bedonia shared to reporters during the PVL Media Day.

  

KKD is not yet at 100%, but it was a heartwarming sign to see her doing drills on the court.

While reuniting with DLSU alumni in Mika Reyes and Erika Santos was a factor in Dy's decision, the star spiker also chose PLDT because of the team's desire.

"I feel like it’s a sign na rin for me to grow as an athlete, learn new things from different teammates. There’s a lot more to learn in volleyball," she told One Sports after practice.

[ALSO READ: PVL: Kim Kianna Dy focused on playing 100% for her new team in PLDT]

  

Majoy Baron shared that she was particularly impressed with Ricafort's system.

"He knows how to work out that aspect of volleyball. I think may edge ‘yun, mas modern ‘yung approach," she told One Sports.

And the unfinished business is real. Baron wants to deliver a medal after F2 Logistics fell short.

"‘Yung gigil," Baron emphasized. "Gusto kong may patunayan as a team, not just as an individual."

  

Fajardo shared the same views.

"Gusto kong matulungan sila na maka-podium finish," she said. "Gusto ko magkakasama kami, first time mag-podium."

[ALSO READ: PVL: Reuniting with Kim Kianna Dy and Majoy Baron in PLDT unplanned, says Kim Fajardo]

  

First bout

The PLDT High Speed Hitters will open their 2024 PVL All-Filipino Conference campaign on February 22, Thursday, 3 p.m. at the Filoil EcoOil Arena against the Galeries Tower Highrisers.

It will be air live on One Sports, One Sports+, and the Pilipinas Live app.

(With reports from Ohmer Bautista, Lei Macaranas, Pao Ambat)