April 14, 2024

PVL preview: Akari recharges with powerful recruits

PVL preview: Akari recharges with powerful recruits
Art by Mitzi Solano/One Sports

The Akari Chargers were not kidding when they meant to recharge for the 2024 PVL All-Filipino Conference.

The top blocking team of the previous conference just got tougher in defense with two-way veteran player Grethcel Soltones, FEU Lady Tamaraws libero Max Juangco, as well as newly-minted Volleyball Thailand League (VTL) champion Ced Domingo.

[ALSO READ: PVL: Fresh from Thailand title, Ced Domingo joins Akari in practice

The departure of Brazilian tactician also led to some reshuffling, as assistant coach Raffy Mosuela was elevated as interim head coach. Supporting him will be former FEU Lady Tamaraws coach Tina Salak, returning from her trip to the United States, along with Rodel Canino. 

Japanese coach Takayuki Minowa of sister team Nxled Chameleons is also overseeing the Chargers' conditioning, as he was promoted as the Akari director of volleyball operations.

While the Akari Chargers may boast of a ridiculously tall and stacked roster, the question remains whether the recruits would be able to master the system in time. The squad in pink--sans Domingo and Dindin Santiago-Manabat--fell to collegiate team Adamson Lady Falcons in five sets during the pre-season Akari Invitational Cup

Coach: Raffy Mosuela

Acquisitions: Grethcel Soltones, Ced Domingo, Max Juangco

AFC lineup

  • Outside hitters: Trisha Genesis, Grethcel Soltones, Janine Marciano, Erika Raagas, Faith Nisperos
  • Opposite spikers: Dindin Santiago-Manabat, Eli Soyud
  • Middle blockers: Roselle Baliton, Ezra Madrigal, Ced Domingo, Fifi Sharma
  • Setters: Michelle Cobb, Ja Maraguinot
  • Liberos: Bang Pineda, Max Juangco, Justine Jazareno

Previous AFC record: 5-6 (7th)

The Akari Chargers' towers have proven to be their best assets, as Dindin Santiago-Manabat figured as the fifth best scorer of the previous preliminaries with 179 points. Faith Nisperos was the squad's second best scorer with 126.

But really, their best performance was in deflecting the ball at the net. Akari as a whole is the top blocking team with 117 kill blocks--the only squad to cross the 100 mark. That's an average of 2.85 per set.

Three Chargers also figured in the top 10 blocking department, with Ezra going for second, Fifi Sharma reaching seventh, and Santiago-Manabat nabbing the tenth spot.

Check out their whole highlights here.

Oh captain, my captain

Michelle Cobb offered no excuses in the professional team's loss to the collegiate Adamson in the Akari Cup.

"Kahit na sabihin mong may certain lapses, may certain na iniinda mga ganun, siyempre no excuses yun. I think we should all give it to Adamson," bared the 24-year-old Cobb after the pre-season tournament.

But the squad did learn to tap into their resiliency, as they crawled back from a two-set deficit to force a deciding frame.

"Doon namin talaga makikita kung ano 'yung mga real-life situations na kung paano namin i-overcome 'yun. So importante sa amin 'yung experience na 'yun. Na-experience namin 'yun dito," said the former La Salle standout.

[ALSO READ: Michelle Cobb tips hat to Adamson, picks up lessons from Akari Cup loss] 

What they said

This kind of growth is exactly what FEU Lady Tamaraw Max Juangco is looking for, when she turned pro to take over Justine Jazareno's libero spot.

The former La Salle floor defender is taking a break to focus on her pregnancy.

It's also that mindset in pressure-packed situations that veteran spiker Grethcel Soltones wants to share with the team.

"Siguro 'yung tibay pa ng loob, lalo na sa dikdikan," Soltones told reporters after training. "Also, 'yung pag-eenjoy sa bawa't galaw mo sa court kasi medyo seryoso sila in a way."

The Lady Beast, an experienced floor defense specialist, previously shared how she wanted to learn more about the Japanese system from coach Taka. Soltones found out that he was just as makulit as she is.

[ALSO READ: PVL: Grethcel Soltones looks to bring contagious energy to Akari

Dindin Santiago-Manabat also welcomed the entry of Soltones and Domingo, both hailing from championship-winning teams.

"Siguro nabawasan 'yung pressure," she admitted to reporters after training. "Alam mo sa sarili mo na may back-up ka na veteran. May matututunan kami talaga sa isa't isa."

She's also learning a lot from her brother-in-law, who is turning out to be a very good teacher.

"Si coach Taka, malaking tulong sa amin. Nae-explain niya ng simple 'yung dapat gawin. Wala na siyang ibang daan-daan. Kung ano 'yung inexplain, napapa-simple lahat, mapapa-'ahh oo nga no' ka na lang," Santiago-Manabat shared.

Coach's corner

Interim coach Raffy Mosuela welcomes the output from Minowa despite the Japanese coach overseeing a sister team in the PVL.

"Nag-uusap naman kami. But pagdating sa games, more on tactical sa amin pa 'rin. But sa training, nagbibigay pa rin siya ng input," he explained. "Napaka-informative naman lahat ng binibigay sa amin."

A libero himself, Mosuela said he appreciates the output from Minowa.

"Magkakaroon naman kami ng additional sa blocking--floor defense connection," he added.

"Hindi na masyadong malaking adjustment. Merong mga idea si coach Taka na nakikita namin sa training, 'di na mahira adjustment kasi yung floor defense system may knowledge ako kaya okay."

[ALSO READ: PVL: Expect enhanced Akari defense with interim coach Raffy Mosuela

First bout

The Akari Chargers will open their campaign against the Cignal HD Spikers on February 24, Saturday, at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

The 4 p.m. game will air on One Sports, One Sports+, and the Pilipinas Live app.

(With reports from Kiko Demigillo, Ohmer Bautista)